13 Nov 2017

Are flexible learning environments working in NZ schools?

From Nine To Noon, 9:30 am on 13 November 2017

Modern classrooms are closely linked to innovative teaching methods and deeper learning, research in New Zealand and Australia has found.

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Photo: RNZ

The ongoing, four-year University of Melbourne study surveyed all New Zealand schools and about 4000 in Australia and receives funding from New Zealand's Ministry of Education.

Lead researcher Wesley Imms said in both countries schools were building new classrooms that featured large open spaces with small rooms and moveable walls.

Such rooms were known as flexible or innovative learning environments, he said.

"In these sort of really open learning environments, or the flexible learning spaces, there's a much much higher level of teachers teaching in a way that the research shows is probably most favourable to learning outcomes," Dr Imms told RNZ's Nine to Noon programme.

He said the survey also found the rooms had a higher incidence of "deep learning", where children retained knowledge and could use it, as opposed to rote learning.

"In other words, we've found a very strong correlation between innovative learning environments, high levels of deep learning and high-quality teaching."

Dr Imms said high quality teaching also happened in traditional classrooms, but there was a greater incidence of poor-quality teaching in those rooms.

He said the focus of the study was identifying the practices teachers could use to make the most of flexible learning environments.

"It's really just a matter now of getting research to say 'how can we optimise this, how can we make sure teachers are getting the support they need to be able to utilise the spaces they've been given as best they possibly can'," Dr Imms said.

RNZ has previously reported that some parents dislike modern classrooms and worry that they are too noisy and are unsuitable for children with attention disorders.