The Nature of Learning. Using Research to Inspire Practice


Work data:

ISBN: 978-92-64-08648-7

Type of work: Report


Education | Innovation




What do we know about how people learn? How do young people’s motivations and emotions influence their learning? What does research show to be the benefits of group work, formative assessments, technology applications, or project-based learning and when are they most effective?  How is learning affected by family background? These are among the questions addressed for the OECD by leading researchers from North America and Europe. This book brings together the lessons of research on both the nature of learning and different educational applications, and it summarises these as seven key concluding principles.  

Among the contributors are Brigid Barron, Monique Boekaerts, Erik de Corte, Linda Darling-Hammond, Kurt Fischer, Andrew Furco, Richard Mayer, Lauren Resnick, Barbara Schneider, Robert Slavin, James Spillane, Elsbeth Stern and Dylan Wiliam.

The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice is essential reading for all those interested in knowing what research has to say about how to optimise learning in classrooms, schools and other settings. It aims, first and foremost, to inform practice and educational reform. It will be of particular interest to teachers, education leaders, teacher educators, advisors and decision makers, as well as the research community


From OECD (2015) Schooling Redesigned. Towards Innovative Learning Systems, p.18-19.

The Innovative Learning Environment (ILE) “Learning Principles”:

The research-based learning principles state that, in order to be most effective, schools and other learning environments should attend to all of the following design principles:

  • Learning Principle One: Make learning central, encourage engagement, and be where learners come to understand themselves as learners.
  • Learning Principle Two: Ensure that learning is social and often collaborative.
  • Learning Principle Three: Be highly attuned to learners’ motivations and the importance of emotions.
  • Learning Principle Four: Be acutely sensitive to individual differences including in prior knowledge.
  • Learning Principle Five: Be demanding for each learner but without excessive overload.
  • Learning Principle Six: Use assessments consistent with these aims, with strong emphasis on formative feedback.
  • Learning Principle Seven: Promote horizontal connectedness across learning activities and subjects, in and out-of-school.

The follow-up ILE report Innovative Learning Environments (2013) maintained the learning principles as fundamental to all activities and organisation but then added three more dimensions to optimise the conditions for putting the principles into practice:

  • Innovate the pedagogical core. This is about ensuring that the core aims, practices and dynamics are innovated to match the ambition of the learning principles. It is about innovating both the core elements (learners, educators, content and learning resources) and the dynamics that connect those elements (pedagogy and formative evaluation, use of time, and the organisation of educators and learners).
  • Become “formative organisations” with strong learning leadership. Learning environments and systems do not just change by themselves but need strong design with vision and strategies. To be firmly focused on learning such leadership needs to be constantly informed by selfreview and evidence on learning achieved
  • Open up to partnerships. This recognises that isolation within a world of complex learning systems is to seriously limit potential. A powerful learning environment and learning system will constantly be creating synergies and finding new ways to enhance professional, social and cultural capital with others. They will do this with families and communities, higher education, cultural institutions, businesses, and especially other schools and learning environments.

Extending the ILE learning architecture.

The above ILE framework is “institution-neutral” as the learning environment as we have defined it may be found in a wide variety of different institutional forms. But in describing the architecture of learning eco-systems, we need to be able to distinguish different organisational arrangements and characterise the kind of learning system it is. This report extends the ILE framework to embrace the nature of networks and strategies at the meso level.

  • Learning focused: How learning focused is the network, and how far focused on innovative learning as defined in ILE work through the seven principles? This is about aims and the centrality of learning. The strategies and initiatives submitted to the ILE study by definition are already biased towards growing innovative learning but many different approaches can be seen. Several of the networked initiatives stand out by giving importance to scanning and identifying the learning challenge at the outset, rather than this being taken as known. They tend to privilege the role played by learners and their families in this process and adopt variants around 21st century competences to define their learning aims. But some also emphasise knowledge of traditional cultural values.
  • Balance of formal and non-formal: How much in evidence are non-formal learning providers, whether as alternatives to or in mixed combinations with schools? How networked are formal learning environments in non-formal ways? At one end of the spectrum are the formal clusters of schools. Less formal is when different schools or communities of practice come together in voluntary ways. There may be purely non-formal bodies or initiatives not operating through school institutions at all. Mapping all the different elements of the meta learning system means to capture its horizontality as well as the basic vertical structures of the school system.
  • The means of innovation “contagion”: How do the meso strategies and networks actually spread learning innovation? This is about the nature of the connections for diffusion within networked learning systems. The featured strategies rely on a wide variety of different methods to connect and diffuse innovation. One problem to be encountered is when strategies become “victims of their own success” and the desired volume of exchange outstrips capacity.

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