Creative learning environments

In recent times, education and the changes that need to be made to educational systems are widely discussed topics across the world. One of the most fundamental systematic changes in recent decades that has led to these discussions is the global transformation from industrial to “knowledge societies.” Knowledge has become a central driving force for economic activity in these societies; prosperity of individuals, companies and nations also increasingly depends on human and intellectual capital.

Knowledge has become a central driving
force for economic activity in these societies

This change has happened due to various reasons, the primary ones being the following: 1) We are living in a “global village,” and economies and societies are closely linked to each other through the process of globalisation, bringing together different cultures, views and habits. Ken Robinson emphasizes that one of the biggest challenges for national education systems is how to educate children to have a sense of cultural identity so that they can pass on the cultural genes of our communities while still being part of the globalization process; 2) Societies and economies have experienced a profound transformation from a reliance on industry to a reliance on knowledge as a foundation.

 

Therefore, national educational systems are trying to determine how to educate children so that they can find their place in the economies of the 21st century. Educators need to prepare youth “for jobs that do not yet exist, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet”; 3) Rapid development has been made in the field of information and communication technologies.

Educators need to prepare youth “for jobs that do not yet exist, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet

The major trends in societies and economies have become increasingly focused on the demanding kinds of learning that are called “21st century competences.” Young people should acquire a deep understanding of complex concepts, gain media literacy and have the ability to use advanced information technologies. 7Teamwork as well as social and communication skills are crucial. Employers argue that the current educational system “teaches yesterday’s skills to tomorrow’s graduates.” Employers are concerned that many new job applicants lack “soft skills,” such as interpersonal communication and analytical thinking.

Employers argue that the current educational system “teaches yesterday’s skills to tomorrow’s graduates.”

In the complex knowledge societies, the creative fields are likely to be important sources of employment in the future, therefore the main goal of education should be the acquisition of “adaptive competences, i.e. the ability to apply meaningfully learned knowledge and skills flexibly and creatively in a variety of contexts and situations.

 

Learning is a key value of knowledge societies. As the amount of global information increases, the notion of learning reintroduces a critical dimension that allows societies to assimilate the great amount of new knowledge that they regularly produce. Learning as a phenomenon may affect all levels of our societies and offer a model for organizing the time, work and lives of our institutions. This is an evolution that illustrates a paradigm shift. Firstly, education and learning can no longer be confined to a fixed time and place. It is not exclusive to the early years, but develops over a lifetime. There has been an actualization of the concept of lifelong learning, meaning that learning takes place not only in schools and universities but in different formal, non-formal and non-formal learning environments. Secondly, the human learner must be put at the heart of a continuing process of knowledge acquisition and communication.

There has been an actualization of the concept of lifelong learning, meaning that learning takes place not only in schools and universities but in different formal, non-formal and non-formal learning environments.

In order to tackle the current need for new educational approaches, the project “Looking @ Learning” has identified and explored the concept of creative learning environments. 

 

There are several definitions of learning environments. In the state of art research “The First Looking at Learning,” a learning environment has been defined as an environment of a particular educational establishment characterized by social components, special objects and matters as well as interpersonal relationships. These factors influence and complement each other and affect every person involved. A learning environment additionally specifies an educational environment; it always implies an organizational process. It ensures correlation of material, communicative and social conditions in the learning process and beneficial circumstances for the development of learners’ creative potential. By using different sources of knowledge and various learning methods, a learner constructs his/her knowledge, skills and dispositions on his or her own.

 

OECD defines “learning environment” as an organic, holistic concept – an ecosystem that includes the activity and the outcomes of the learning. In order to understand the “learning environment”, it is crucial to focus on the dynamics and interactions between four dimensions – the learner (who?), educators (with whom?), content (learning what?) and facilities and technologies (where? with what?). In order to create a  creative learning environment, it is vital to rethink and look differently at any of these 4 elements that are mentioned above. 

 

The OECD project “The Innovative Learning Environments” (ILE) has identified principles that need to be considered in order to create effective learning environments:

 

  • Recognise the learners as its core participants, encourage their active engagement, and develop in them an understanding of their own activity as learners (“self-regulation”). 
  • Be founded on the social nature of learning and actively encourage group work and well-organised co-operative learning. Individual knowledge construction happens throughout the process of interaction, negotiation and co-operation. Neuroscience shows that the human brain is primed for interaction 
  • Have learning professionals who are highly attuned to the learners’ motivations and the key role of emotions in achievement. 
  • Be acutely sensitive to the individual differences among the learners in it, including their prior knowledge. 
  • Devise programmes that demand hard work and challenge from all without excessive overload. 
  • Operate with clarity of expectations and deploy assessment strategies consistent with these expectations; there should be strong emphasis on formative feedback to support learning. 
  • Strongly promote “horizontal connectedness” across areas of knowledge and subjects as well as to the community and the wider world. 
 
In view of the aforementioned principles and elements of a creative learning environment, during the project “Looking at Learning” study educators initiated and experimented with a variety of interactive learning methods, which made it possible to identify and characterize a creative learning environment in this project.