Innovating the Practice of Learning

Posted by Dr. Maria Langworthy
Director, ITL Research

Teachers, school leaders and governments are struggling with how to educate our children to succeed in today’s high tech global economy. Today, Microsoft released the findings from the first year of the Innovative Teaching and Learning Research project, which provides new evidence on how to most effectively address this challenge.

The research shows that students can get the skills they need for work and life in the 21st century if teachers structure learning activities that require those skills. However, most teachers who participated in this research do not have clear definitions of what these skills really are, how to develop them through their assignments or how to measure their students’ achievement of these skills such as collaboration, problem-solving and knowledge-building.
The study found that when more innovative teaching practices are used, students’ work more often demonstrates these 21st century skills. “Innovative teaching practices,” as studied and measured in ITL Research, include not only the integration of technology in teaching and learning, but also advanced approaches in teaching such as student-centered learning and extending learning beyond the classroom. Technology by itself may not impact student learning; the research suggests that how it is used, and the pedagogical context in which learning takes place, work in combination to influence student learning.
The findings also revealed how schools and education systems can most effectively support the development of more innovative teaching practices.
• First, the level of collaboration among teachers in a school was a very strong indicator of the overall level of innovative teaching in that school, suggesting the need for schools to foster collaboration among teachers through co-teaching, joint curriculum planning and formal discussion time for thinking critically about instructional practices.

• Second, the level of recognition provided by school leaders for innovative teaching is another factor consistently associated with the overall level of innovative teaching in a school. This suggests innovative teaching can be fostered by making it a part of teachers’ incentives, appraisals and peer review processes.

• Third, when it comes to integrating Information and Communication Technologies(ICT) in teaching and learning, there was a strong association between teachers having access to ICT in their classrooms (rather than in separate computer labs or libraries) and their actual use of ICT in teaching. Across most countries, teachers said lack of student access to computers in the classroom was the largest barrier to using ICT in teaching and learning.

• Fourth, among the many types of professional development in which teachers engage, teachers who engage in research related to teaching and learning and those who participate in networks of teachers focused on professional development had the highest levels of innovative teaching practices.
The ITL Research project, which was initially sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning, is part of a multi-year international initiative designed to provide insights, evidence and tools to help policy-makers and schools address these challenges. It investigates innovative teaching practices, the conditions that support these practices and their impact on students’ 21st century skills. The global research is managed by SRI International with a team of advisors from organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development  (OECD); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and many universities around the world.
Based on the findings from the first year of ITL Research and from the response of teachers who participated in the research, Microsoft Partners in Learning also launched the Partners in Learning School Research tool. Teachers participating in the research last year said it provided them with clear definitions of 21st century skills and how to teach them.

“The biggest value of the research for us is that it gives teachers a very clear idea of which teaching and learning practices are useful, if our aim is 21st century teachers developing our pupils’ 21st century skills,” said Minna Haanpää, an educator from the Kello School in Finland.

The Partners in Learning School Research tool allows any interested school or education system in the world to conduct surveys based on ITL Research methods and receive reports with measures of innovative teaching practices at their school. The tool is already available in more than 30 languages at We invite schools and educators to begin using this tool to measure and support innovative teaching practices that help students develop the skills they need for success in today and tomorrow’s world.

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