Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) and Modern Learning Practice (MLP), or whatever acronym they are currently known by, have my full attention at this moment in time. This is primarily because of the central role that they have played in the current reshaping of education both in New Zealand and abroad. It is also related to the strength of the emotional response that this concept elicits from teachers and others working in the field of education, both positive and negative. As well as my personal interest in this educational trend, it is extremely relevant to my practice in the sense that my school has a strong commitment to developing and implementing its own vision of MLA/MPL, referred to in-house by an acronym which always reminds me of popular frog shaped chocolate treat.
Modern learning practice is a transformative innovation that seeks to “chang[e] the ways students engage with their learning, how they learn and what they learn (ERO).” It is commonly presented as best practice with the implication being that previous approaches to education are now outdated and not able to meet the needs of modern students. The OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation state this position very clearly, arguing that
“innovative ways of organising learning at the micro level (learning environment) and how this connects to the meso level (networks and communities of practice), as well as strategies for implementing learning change at the macro, system level ((Istance, D., Heppner, E. & Martinez, M., 2014)” will allow for learning to be made more central in education, increase the social component of learning, allow for learning to be more individualised while also being more collaborative, and allow for better assessment practices. The authors of this document show an incredible mastery of understatement when they describe this change as “far reaching innovation (Istance, D., Heppner, E. & Martinez, M., 2014).” While the outcomes that they describe as achievable through properly implemented Innovative Learning Environments (ILE), their preferred term for MLE/MLP, sound amazing, one is left wondering how real is this? Does a strong body of evidence exist to support these claims? Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case and research into the efficacy of MLE/MLP appears to be extremely limited. Furthermore, research into this critical question is appears to be extremely problematic. For example, it is possible to use poor pedagogy within the context of an MLE and have this result in poor outcomes for students. How do you apportion responsibility if you wish to evaluate the impact of your Innovative Learning Environment? I wonder if building a stronger evidential basis would have preceded building new schools whose design is based on this educational approach.
Although at some level I believe that something good will come of the MLE/MLP approach, and that evidence will eventually exist to support it, I wonder if we need to change the way that we evaluate this approach. Rather than trying to measure the effect that it has on learning, an approach that seems fraught with difficulties, why not ask how innovative learning environments bring about changes in behaviour and pedagogical practices (Blackmore, J., Bateman, D., Cloonan, A., Dixon, M., Loughlin, J., O’Mara, J., & Senior, K. (2011)? For me, this question reframes MPE/MLP as a space in which teaching and learning occurs and allows questioning to focus on what impact this approach has on established pedagogical practices while examining and evaluating ‘new’ pedagogical practices that may evolve or emerge from this new educational setting.
Answering these questions in an open-minded and evidence-based manner is critical for all of the stakeholders involved. Students, parents, teachers and the wider community need to feel confident that they are not guinea pigs in an educational experiment, that this transformation of mainstream education has the potential to result in positive outcomes for all involved.
Blackmore, J., Bateman, D., Cloonan, A., Dixon, M., Loughlin, J., O’Mara, J., & Senior, K. (2011). Innovative learning environments research study. Victoria: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
Istance, D., Heppner, E., Martinez, M. (2014). INNOVATIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS. Retrieved June 13, 2017 from https://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/ILE_Brochure.pdf