Modern Learning Environments and Learning Technologies - 21st century education change-makers or old school smoke screens?

Modern Learning Environments is a term that seems to be bandied around a lot lately. But interestingly it is rarely defined. The (NZ) Ministry of Education has a whole section on their website dedicated to them, lots of info and tools but no actual definition. More online research and still little in the way of a definition can be found. So what is a Modern Learning Environment or MLE? It would seem (from what I have gleaned from a number of school visits and indeed our own school plans), that this is a generic term that describes a space which may include many things: open and/or flexible learning spaces, breakout spaces, small spaces often referred to as "caves", multi-purpose spaces, technology rich spaces and spaces that house "modern learning furniture" such as bean bags, camp fire seats and a variety of high, mid-height and low groovy shaped tables...on wheels. Interestingly MLEs don't actually seem that modern at all. In fact there is something rather retro and even commune-like about them and if I am honest they sort of remind me of a daycare...on steroids.

So what exactly makes these learning environments "modern"? I guess what makes them modern is the fact that they are different from the old ones (i.e. single cell rooms) and for many, rather unsettling. Historically speaking, different and unsettling seems to mean "modern" doesn't it? I guess "unsettling learning environment" was a bit of a hard sell, so "modern" it is then.

But hang on a minute, who said that modern equals good? The reality is, good (and bad) teaching can take place anywhere. I am guessing (and I am hoping) that the MLE will not simply make the teaching and learning better because it is a MLE, but that it will encourage a more open and flexible approach to teaching and learning because as a space it is exactly that, open and flexible. I hope it will encourage all those things we refer to as "effective pedagogy" in the NZC. I also hope it might discourage too much teacher led instruction and encourage a more facilitation style of teaching and learning.

Learning Technologies are a little easier to define. The term simply means any technology that may support learning. For most, this would include computers (desktops, laptops and tablets), interactive whiteboards, smart screens and smart phones. Learning Technologies are also "not so modern". I guess what might be deemed as modern is the shift in who owns and uses the technology, as 'Bring Your Own Device' initiatives see the ownership and power shifting to the student.

Interestingly, whilst I value and see huge potential in both MLEs and (student owned) Learning Technologies I am also concerned about them. I am concerned that the development of MLEs and the introduction of Learning Technologies can become a bit of a smoke screen and can actually create an illusion of modernity when little has actually changed. I worry that the introduction of these physically, palpable and measurable objects will be seen as making a change for the better, when the one thing that that really needs to be "introduced" is still lacking - the teacher's belief that the student is capable of leading their own learning. How do we ensure that MLEs and Learning Technologies don't actually create the educational equivalent of "mutton dressed as lamb" with old beliefs and teaching approaches being dressed up in hip and groovy clothing.

MLEs are pointless if the teacher still leads from the front of classrooms (albeit classrooms with invisible walls). Learning Technologies are pointless when the students have the use of their technology controlled and limited to little more than word processing and the odd google search. The challenge will actually be to explore how the MLEs and Learning Technologies can be used to genuinely change how and what we have been doing.

I guess my concern my concern is this - changing the environment and introducing tools is easy, genuinely changing our thinking and letting our "caged" students go "free-range" - now that's going to be a challenge.







Comments

  1. Mmm - see this has been my problem. Trying to figure out how to effectively use the kids' devices in the teaching environment. So far my activities are little more than controlled activities using electronic interactivity. I want to be able to teach effectively with electronics, but am unsure how. And how to supervise the kids so that they're stay on-task - or is that caging the kids again?

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  2. Great post Claire - Hobsonville Point are lucky to have you ;-)

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    1. Thank you Derek! I feel lucky to be there as well!

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  3. Unfortunately there is no easy answer. One thing I do know from experience, is that the more freedom you give the students to experiment and explore, the more effective their use becomes. The key is for you and your students to have really clear understanding of what the intended learning outcome is (irregardless of the technology) and a clear understanding of the timeframe to do it. Other than that it is about the teacher getting out of their way, but also very "present" - it is really difficult for a student to be off task if you are amongst them excitedly asking about what they are using and why. Also learning technologies are evolving way too quickly for teachers to even bothering beating themselves up about being experts. Step aside and let your students discover tools and strategies for themselves and enjoy learning from the, along the way.

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  4. I think starting out on a MLE (& learning tech) journey is a situation where teacher reflection is even more important than normal. Giving staff (not just students) really targeted reflection prompts so that they critically engage with their practice and see that they aren't just doing glorified, whizz bang traditional teaching.

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  5. I need to get my head around all this 'modern' learning as I am probably returning to the classroom next year.. thanks Claire for the straightforward, uncluttered, easy to process and digest discussion! It is appreciated!

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  6. Great food for thought Claire. It's going to very worthwhile putting in a lot of energy getting the "right" teachers. Hobsonville Point learners are in for a treat!

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  7. Hi Claire,

    My name is Andy Schick, Market Manager at N4L.

    Great thoughts, and I would love to throw some thinking around with you at some point in the next few weeks. Could you shoot me an email with dates you might be free to have a chat? you can reach me at firstname.lastname@n4l.co.nz.

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  8. This is a very validating article. Everyday I struggle with the idea of "getting out of the way" of students learning. I am in a school that has IWB, apple TV, one to one student laptop programs, yet within this environment remains a very traditional approach to the teaching.
    Teacher driven, teacher controlled, front of the room style.
    I spent the summer creating a wiki page for one of my courses. Very labour intensive.

    I have invited multi levels of students to go to the site and engage with the material. This is meant with apprehension by other teachers as it is perceived as creating students who might be unwilling to revisit the same material in the following year. A logistics nightmare. Free range is not seen as a viable solution.

    How can we deny those students who are self propelling,who are bored, and who are dying for the next challenge?

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  9. I think e-learning is a great thing. It allows everybody get higher education no meter where he|she leaves. Higher Education is a common thing for Europe or USA, but for poor african people that is a real luxury. That is why enhancing e-learning experience is so important in African countries.

    Source:"online learning Africa"

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  10. This year I established a learning environment together with my class. I started day 1 with a completely empty classroom and zero expectations as to how it would look at the end. Together as a class we established a design that fits our learning needs and styles. Check out our blog where I have documented out journey if you are interested...

    http://learningenvironmentg4.blogspot.co.nz/

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    1. Sounds like an awesome process, thanks for sharing Nickie!

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  11. Hi Claire,
    Loved this article! I hope it's ok, I have referenced to it in the blog I am keeping as part of my sabbatical project this term.

    http://mlenewzealand.weebly.com/1/post/2013/06/real-change-half-way-thoughts.html

    Thank you for summing up so well exactly what I have been thinking!

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    1. You are absolutely welcome! Loving your reflections BTW.
      Cheers Claire

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