16. Innovative Learning Environments


Thing16 is about Innovative Learning Environments (ILE’s) sometimes also called Modern Learning Environments (MLE’s) or Flexible Learning Environments (FLE’s).

This Thing is a little different to our usual Things but we felt that it was such a hot topic in education at the moment that it needed to have its very own Thing! Enjoy!

What do you mean “Innovative Learning Environment”?

The Ministry of Education is very clear about the need to see ILE’s as a “learning eco-system”. The Ministry of Education clearly explain how they (the MOE) share the OECD’s holistic view  of learning environments as “an ecosystem that includes learners, educators, families/whānau, communities, content and resources like property and technology. It’s about everything working together to support teachers and learners and ensure our young people are confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners (National Curriculum).”

An innovative learning environment is an environment which evolves and adapts as educational practices evolve and change, remaining future-focused. They are learner-focussed, encourage collaboration and inquiry, both for learners and teachers, and allow teachers to teach in the style that best suits the needs of the diverse learners in their ‘classroom’.

New Zealand’s New Super Classrooms from Channel 3’s Story programme shares some insights from NZ educators about ILE’s.

What does an “ILE” look like in New Zealand schools?

Pedagogy for ILE’s

The MOE outlines how Innovative Learning Environment’s support the essence of the New Zealand Curriculum (English medium) and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (Māori medium), putting “learners at the centre of teaching and learning, asserting that they should experience a curriculum that engages and challenges them, is forward-looking and inclusive, and affirms New Zealand’s unique identity.”

The MOE’s website around ILE’s details two conceptual models for innovative learning environments which sit well with the New Zealand Curriculum and the future-focused view of the MOE.

  1. Innovative Learning Environments as outlined by the OECD which shows a ‘pedagogical core’ at the heart of each learning environment represented by four key elements (educators, learners, content and resources) and the dynamics between them.
  2. Another representation of the total system is the Educational Positioning System (EPS) developed by Core Education and Dr Julia Atkin. The EPS encompasses strategies and structures, philosophical frameworks and community and culture.

Karen Boyes’s blog post, Modern Learning Environments – the underlying philosophy to success, expresses her concern (one that is shared by a number of educators) around the need for a big pedagogy shift when moving to an MLE/ ILE, otherwise students will continue to learn in the same way many teachers have always been teaching – just in bigger classrooms with new furniture.

To support a shift in pedagogy, Karen highlights five considerations that are vital to ensure success:

  1. Be clear on your underlying philosophy of learning
  2. Create a safe environment by redefining mistakes and failure
  3. Teach students to take ownership
  4. Ensure students know the learning process
  5. Celebrate the learning – not the end result


Collaborative Teaching in ILE’s:

ILE’s have brought to the forefront, a ‘new’ way of teaching – collaborative teaching or co-teaching.  Chris Bradbeer, in his blog about collaborative teaching,  explains that collaborative teaching can be defined as “two or more people sharing responsibility for educating some or all of the students in a classroom” (Villa, Thousand and Nevin, 2008, p. 5)”. They suggest that it “involves the distribution of responsibility among people for planning, instruction and evaluation for a classroom of students (p. 5). ”  Chris is currently working in his research master’s program on the subject of pedagogy and classroom spaces and shares some of his findings on his blog .

There are 4 models for co-teaching (which can have different names) but include:

  1. Supportive co-teaching where one co- teacher is in the lead role; others provide support.
  2. Parallel Co-Teaching where co-teachers work with different groups of students in the same room.
  3. Complementary Co-Teaching where the co-teachers share responsibility for teaching the whole class.
  4. Team Teaching where both co- teachers are equally responsible for teaching and learning.

This Prezi by Kim Noel shares some of the different models for co-teaching and some tops for making it effective. Effective co-teaching strategies are outlined in detail by Dr Richard Villa in this blog.

Te Kowhai School have gathered together a number of resources for teachers to explore when working in a collaborative teaching model.


try-this-iconTry this

There is some much information available about ILE’s that your task this week is to spend some time looking at resources that interest you.

In your blog, tell us :

  • What you think are the 5 most important attributes a teacher needs to have to work effectively in an ILE / collaborative teaching space.
  • Justify each attribute as to why you have included it.
  • Rank the attributes from 1 – 5 with 1 being the most important and 5 being the least important.

explore-further-iconExplore further

Some more examples of ILE’s in New Zealand:


Resources to support you as you enter into a co-teaching environment:


10 commandments of co-teaching and 5 tips for team teaching are a good place to get started.

Redesigning your Classroom:

David Bill, outlines 8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign Your Classroom right now.  He gives some ideas for how you can redesign you own teaching space – whether you are looking to reorganise one corner or your classroom or redesign the entire room, these tips may help you throughout the process.

Set up and use the spaces in your classrooms for specific purposes considering the learning setting and purposes of each, and the inclusion of learning studios, and caves, campfires and watering holes.

Director of innovation, Stephen Collis (Sydney Centre of Innovation in Learning) explains Professor David Thornburg’s terms cave, campfire, and watering hole, and the different functions of these spaces in your learning environment.

Research about ILE’s:

Innovative Learning Environments by Mark Osbourne from CORE Education outlines some of the key questions that research suggests should be asked “in order to maximise the likelihood that all learners’ needs are met”.

Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective draws together findings from new data and more than 10 years of research on current practice and futures-thinking in education.

Future-focused learning in connected communities  from Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye’s 21st Century Learning Reference Group aims to help inform government planning around 21st century skills and digital competencies.

Innovative Learning Environments report from the OECD offers a helpful set of guidelines for innovating in learning environments. The executive summary is an easy read to get the general idea of what they have discovered.

Schooling Redesigned – Towards Innovative Learning Systems report led by the OECD looks at what redesigning schools and schooling through innovation means in practice and how this might be brought about.

The nature of learning – Using research to inspire practice  is a summary of the OECD book (of the same name) which links what we know about how people learn and how the learning environment is designed.

Knocking down walls and buying new furniture – what are Innovative Learning Environments in NZ schools really about? looks at how the ILE compares to the “open barns” of the 1970’s.


Concern about ILE’s:

Top schools give multi-million dollar classrooms a fail grade is an article that came out last year (2015) expressing some concern over the ‘new’ ILE’s being built.  A reaction to this article from Sally Hart, a NZ educator, can be found here – Everything is nothing with a twist…I am not a non existent teacher who just lets students go!  Radio New Zealand post and podcast, Backlash against open-plan classrooms, highlights some concerns around ILE’s.

Specifically, concerns have also been raised over how hearing impaired students will fare in ILE classrooms and this article on Stuff.co.nz discusses some of these issues.

This CORE Education blog post by Lynne Silcock, Will Innovative Learning Environments Work for Everyone, addresses some of the concerns that parents and teachers have about A few noted that a child being lost, forgotten, or overwhelmed in larger, open learning spaces. Also worth considering is Mark Osborne’s post: Will my child get lost in an innovative learning environment?.

Additional Resources:

Dr Cheryl Doig explains ways in which collaboration in schools can be enhanced and five characteristics and three mindframes necessary to lead collaboration in schools.

Mark Wilson, Principal of Cashmere High School, produced a Sabbatical report on the effectiveness of modern learning environments on improving student learning and achievement.

Innovative Learning Environments Research Study from Deakin University draws from the research literature to inform a discussion around case studies undertaken over four months in 2010 in 12 Victorian schools.



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23 teaching things is written by Lucie Lindsay and Bronwyn Edmunds. This professional learning series is from CreATE at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work. #23Teaching

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