Teachers as Designers
of Learning Environments
The Importance of Innovative Pedagogies
Alejandro Paniagua and David Istance
Presenting The OPEDUCA Project as one of the innovative pedagogies and networks globally underpinning the research and conclusions in this 2018 OECD-report.

Pedagogy is at the heart of teaching and learning. Preparing young people to become lifelong learners with a deep knowledge of subject matter and a broad set of social skills requires a better understanding of how pedagogy influences learning. Focusing on pedagogies shifts the perception of teachers from technicians who strive to attain the education goals set by the curriculum to experts in the art and science of teaching. Seen through this lens, innovation in teaching becomes a problem-solving process rooted in teachers' professionalism, rather than an add-on applied by only some teachers in some schools.

Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments: The Importance of Innovative Pedagogies

provides a snapshot of innovative pedagogies used in classrooms around the world. It sets the stage for educators and policy makers to innovate teaching by looking at what is currently taking place in schools as potential seeds for change. At the heart of all of these approaches is a sensitivity to the natural inclinations of learners towards play, creativity, collaboration and inquiry. To illustrate how teachers use these innovative practices, the publication presents examples from 27 national and international networks of schools.

It is now generally acknowledged that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. This volume goes a step further to argue that a teacher cannot help students meet new educational challenges by continuing to draw on a limited and perhaps even inherited set of pedagogies. And here lies the genuine importance of innovative pedagogies


What does innovation in pedagogy look like?

It is generally acknowledged that the quality of an educational system depends upon the quality of its teachers. In focusing on the importance of pedagogies it is possible to argue that to help students meet new educational challenges, teachers need to reflect upon and update their repertoire of practices. Preparing young people to meet new contemporary challenges means reviewing and updating the pedagogies teachers use. Innovation at the level of practice must be seen as a normal response to addressing the daily challenges of a constantly changing classroom. Change is not an extra, but a pedagogical problem-solving process that builds on the creative, intuitive and personal capacities of teachers. The new OECD publication,

Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments: The Importance of Innovative Pedagogies

, aims to help teachers navigate the huge number of promising practices and new approaches within the innovation landscape. It builds on the analysis of six clusters of innovative pedagogies and the insights of networks of innovative schools to offer a baseline from which teachers can innovate themselves.

Innovation in the classroom isn't fostered by feeding teachers with techniques.

Why pedagogy matters for innovative teaching

Teachers are responsible for preparing young people to meet new challenges in a fast-changing world; and that is why innovation in teaching practices has become essential for engaging students.

When it comes to innovative practice, there are many documented examples of innovative practice that teachers can turn to; however, to simply direct teachers to a set of tools and techniques would not necessarily be the best way to help them innovate in the classroom. Every situation is unique, and it is not always clear how such tools can be adapted in practice.

This 2018 OECD report takes a different approach. Rather than viewing teachers as technicians who adopt tools to improve the learning outcomes of their students, the report sees them as competent professionals who are able to find solutions to new problems. If the main challenge in educational practice is to meet the diverse needs of every student, then teaching needs to be acknowledged as a problem-solving process rooted in teacher professionalism.

Our report focuses on pedagogies around natural learning inclinations, such as play, emotions, creativity, collaboration and enquiry. By identifying and grouping innovative approaches that promote learner engagement and align with new principles of learning, this publication can help teachers to innovate for themselves. It also provides readers with valuable insights from networks of innovative schools, including some that have already implemented the approaches described in the report.

In writing this report, we built on the analysis of six clusters of innovative pedagogies:

blended learning

, where the classroom is seen as the place to apply content and deepen one-to-one interactions, whether with the teacher or through peer collaboration;


, which is engagement through play and the pedagogies of games;

computational thinking

, which addresses mathematics as a coding language and looks at information and communication technology (ICT) as a platform for developing problem-solving reasoning in students;

experiential learning

, which focuses on the process of discovery;

embodied learning

, which focuses on the non-mental factors involved in learning and that signal the importance of the body and feelings; and

multiliteracies and discussion-based teaching

, which situates knowledge in the political and cultural context.
Together, these clusters provide a baseline from which teachers can innovate themselves.

It is essential for teachers to understand the relationship between teaching and learning when designing learning environments; and to acknowledge the importance of networking and collaboration among schools that are implementing similar approaches: this is the starting point for putting innovations into action.

In the case of ICT, the increased use of computers in different subjects has not signalled a turning point in how students acquire the complex set of skills they need to be proficient

. They may become familiar with basic tasks, but not in a way that boosts their learning or, more importantly, helps them understand ICT as a critical tool for solving today's challenges.

In fact, the unfulfilled promise of ICT in education underscores the importance of putting pedagogies at the centre of education policy discussions. The importance of ICT and skills like critical thinking and digital literacy has come into clearer focus in new projects targeting curriculum reform, and it has been incorporated in surveys such as the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA). Yet

neither the curriculum nor the assessments really tell teachers how to update their practices


School networks are critical for understanding and scaling classroom-level innovations.

To help teachers become champions of ICT in the classroom, we must think in terms of teaching and learning interactions. For example, by considering critical thinking, digital literacy or computer science in terms of pedagogies, it is possible to identify computational thinking as a key pedagogical lever in understanding how to use computers in the way that scientists do to solve problems; in other words, using computers to implement problem-solving approaches. This, in turn, can improve student competence in mathematics, sciences, or other key areas such as design or algorithmic thinking.

School networks are also a critical lever for understanding and scaling classroom-level innovations. Such networks play an important role in encouraging innovation as a community-driven process to collectively improve the design of learning environments. 

Recognising the key role of pedagogy is not about policy dictating the best teaching methods. Rather, it is a matter of broadening teachers' skills and techniques, and helping them explore new ways of thinking, reflecting and understanding. In this mission, teachers are not and should not be alone: teachers in school networks are in continuous contact with a large community that supports their professional development. Innovation in the classroom isn't fostered by feeding teachers with techniques, but through a learning process in which teachers identify their creative, intuitive and personal capacities, and better align them with innovative pedagogies.

April 09, 2018
By Alejandro Paniagua
OECD / Consultant, Directorate for Education and Skills

Understanding innovative pedagogies

Key themes to analyse new approaches to teaching and learning

Pedagogy is at the heart of teaching and learning. Preparing young people to meet new contemporary challenges means to review and update the pedagogies teachers use. However, despite the increased reporting of teachers and schools that are innovating,

schools remain largely seen as very resistant places for innovation

. To address the importance and challenges of implementing new pedagogies, this paper brings together leading experts to reflect on key areas of pedagogy. In particular, each chapter addresses a pedagogical dimension that together offers a conceptual framework for action. This framework moves beyond a fragmented focus on specific innovations. In doing so, it helps explain how innovative pedagogies may be developed, applied and scaled. Amelia Peterson's first contribution shows how fundamental purpose is to pedagogy, while Hanna Dumont's section explores adaptive teaching as a cross-cutting concept over a range of different pedagogical approaches.

Then the paper moves to discuss the importance of understanding pedagogies as combinations, which Amelia Peterson defines as two layers: one combining discrete teaching practices and another that combines approaches to meet long-term educational goals. Marc Lafuente looks first at content domains (mathematics, non-native languages, and socio-emotional learning) and how they relate to pedagogies. He then contributes to the thinking on new learners and technology, as important context influencing pedagogical choices and implementation. The final section by Nancy Law is focused on change, through the particular prism of technology-enhanced pedagogical innovations. Her analysis moves towards a theory of change that takes account of the need for alignment at the different levels of the educational system.

Amelia Petersoni (Harvard University), Hanna Dumontii and Marc Lafuente (German Institute for Economic Research / DIW-Berlin) and Nancy Law (University of Hong Kong).