Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs), celebrated by some for the ‘transformational’ educational opportunities they may provide, raise questions whether the anticipated pedagogical value of these ‘non-traditional’ spaces is based on idealised visions of teaching and learning rather than sound evidence. Before such complex issues can be efficiently addressed, evidence of the actual ‘state of play’ of the nature of school spaces is required.
This report provides results of a survey disseminated to over 6000 school principals in Australia and New Zealand (NZ). Participants were invited to provide their perceptions of
(1) the types of learning spaces in their schools;
(2) the types of teaching approaches observed in those spaces;
(3) the degree to which teachers in those spaces utilised progressive ‘mind frames’; and
(4) the degree to which students engaged in ‘deep’ as opposed to ‘surface’ learning in those spaces.
With a response rate of 14%, the 822 responses provided unique data on the distribution, use, and perceived impact of use of particular learning environment types in these Australasian regions. Findings, based on principals’ perceptions, indicated that in this sample of schools:
(1) traditional classrooms were the dominant classroom type, amounting to approximately 75% of all spaces;
(2) the dominant teaching approach was characteristics of teacher-led pedagogies;
(3) participants from schools with a higher prevalence of traditional classroom spaces reported a lower assessment along the teacher mind frame continuum, with the reverse in more flexible learning spaces; and
(4) students in traditional classrooms exhibited less deep learning characteristics, with the opposite in more flexible learning environments.
The study concluded that while this research was dependent on the perceptions of leading teachers, the response rate and framing of the questions indicates that there existed evidence of a relationship between types of learning environments, teaching practices, teacher mind frames, and student deep learning.
This technical report does not argue generalizable results, nor the existence of demonstrable causal relationships between spatial types and pedagogic approaches/ types of learning. Such discussion and further analysis will stem from this technical report. It does, however, provide a detailed overview of the structure, implementation and results from a large-scale survey that focused on such issues. This constitutes an evidence-based platform for future discussion and academic inquiry about the opportunities and challenges surrounding the use and practice of ILEs in Australia and NZ. The direction of this enquiry may, conceivably, extend to questioning if more flexible learning environments facilitate, encourage or allow the types of learning and teaching characteristics being sought by policy and educational specialists, and proponents of ‘21st century learning skills’.