Every educator wants to create an environment that will foster students’ love of learning. Because the criteria are intangible, it’s difficult to define exactly what they are. But one group of researchers is giving it a try. They launched the Innovative Learning Environments Project to identify practical interventions that mark innovative learning environments. Their is a growing need of designing future proof learning environments. That means helping students to build skills useful in a world where jobs are increasingly information and knowledge-based. An important insight is that this is not job-specific: no one knows what the future economy will demand. Instead, the main goal is to develop self-directed learners: students with adaptive expertise.
Adaptive expertise tries to push beyond the idea of mastery. Without adaptive expertise you can get stuck very quickly as the world shifts. I acknowledge the importance of mastery and that students need to learn appropriate content. It’s equally important to develop students’ ability to go beyond that, to question and apply learning in new situations. To many times this is denied and forgotten.
With this in mind, these are their principles for designing an innovative learning environment:
1. Students have to be at the center of what happens in the classroom: students have to actively engage in learning in order to become self-regulated learners. It’s important to be able to control your emotions and motivations during the study process, set goals, and monitor your own learning process. It’s about putting the students in the center of activities to gain knowledge and skills to contribute to cognition and growth;
2. Learning is a social practice and can’t happen alone: we learn by pushing and pulling on concepts with one others. Structured, collaborative group work can be good for all learners. It pushes people in different ways. By nature we are social beings and we learn by interacting;
3. Emotions are an integral part of learning: students understand ideas better when there is interplay between emotions, motivation and cognition. This supports positive beliefs about oneself. This is crucial in reaching a more profound understanding. If students understand why it matters, learning becomes more important to them. The power of emotions and motivation is often overlooked in education because it is seen as ‘soft’;
4. Students are different: you really want practices and processes that help teachers engage each student where they are. Innovative learning environments reflect the various experiences and prior knowledge that each student brings to class;
5. Students need to be stretched, but not too much: it is really critical to find that student’s sweet spot. Students need to experience both academic success and the challenge of discovery. Teachers should try to prevent both underloading and overloading;
6. Assessment should be for learning, not of learning: assessments should be meaningful, substantial, and shape the learning environment itself. Good teachers do this informally most of the time. Assessments are important, but mostly to gain information on how to structure the next lesson for maximum effectiveness;
7. Learning needs to be connected across disciplines: learning can’t be meaningful if students don’t understand why the knowledge will be useful to them, how it can be applied in life. Understanding the connections between subjects and ideas is essential for the ability to transfer knowledge, skills and adapt.