Learning in the 21st Century: Research, Innovation and Policy - Part 3

This is the last of the series of 3 articles providing insights into the discussions of the international conference on ‘Learning in the 21st Century: Research, Innovation and Policy’, addressed by OECD/CERI that took place in the past.

Educational Reform and Innovation

To deduce the relationship between reform and innovation, it would be too simple to infer that reform is something directed from center and necessarily flawed compared to the value of innovation. The nature of innovation needs to be understood more profoundly and focus should be on its encouragement, sustainability and bureaucratization rather than just gathering examples of innovative practice. Cros, in her contribution to the 1999 ‘Schooling for Tomorrow’ volume, suggested some alternatives for understanding the generalization of innovation based on different metaphors and social processes. In the Research-development-dissemination-adoption model, there are stages to be followed based on the industrial conception of innovation as a technical process. In the epidemiological model, innovation is understood to spread in a given population rather as an epidemic. In the institutionalization innovation model, an innovation has a finite duration and, in the best of cases, it leaves traces of its existence. When it is adopted by an institution, it becomes appropriated so that the innovation loses its newness and energy, is absorbed by the institution, and becomes part of a routine.

CERI has developed analysis of innovation in terms of four ‘pumps’: the ‘Science-based’ innovation pump (research and development), ‘horizontally-organized’ innovation pump (networking), ‘modular structures’ innovation pump (organization), and ‘ICT based’ innovation pump to conclude that the potential of all these is underdeveloped in education.

Confronting Resilient Bureaucratic Systems

 Tom Bentley, in an analysis recently prepared for OECD/CERI, argues that schooling challenges require identifying and harnessing a particular approach to innovation and system change to recreate the parameters of teaching, learning, participation and organization. It is required to properly understand the sources of bureaucratic resilience. For Bentley, what is striking is the formal universal priority now enjoyed politically by education with a strong focus on pushing up quality through standards-based reform. For him, this focus has not resulted in the replacement of the traditional bureaucratic model of schooling. The explanation for the resilience of traditional models of bureaucracy may lie in their peculiar flexibility. The lesson Bentley draws is that, rather than seeking to bypass the adaptive capacity of existing systems, new reform strategies for improvement should be adopted. What’s needed is a new view of innovation and its relationship to system design, and a fresh global context to place education.


CERI projects tell us a lot about the nature of learning and how it helps policy-makers to induce changes in the education system. The key findings of these projects give useful directions for new learning environments in today’s schools:

  • Personalized Learning: Learning Sciences research suggests that learning will be effective if each learner has a customized learning experience. Different learners have different cognitive structures and flexible individual characteristics. Hence, students learn best when they are in a learning environment that is flexible enough to adapt teaching strategies to individual needs. Formative assessment is regarded as an essential element of personalized learning, as it is characterized by the continual identification of and responses to students’ needs.
  • Motivation and Emotion in Learning: PISA shows that the motivation to learn, the belief about one’s own abilities and the existence of learning strategies are a precondition for successful and lifelong learning. These findings are supported by Neuroscience results such as Cognitive functions are negatively affected by incomprehensible learning materials.
  • Diverse knowledge sources: Learners can acquire knowledge from a variety of sources such as books, technology and experts around the globe. ICTs have an increasing importance today as they are essential tools to acquire knowledge. 
  • Assessments: Tests should evaluate the student’s deeper conceptual understanding, the extent to which their knowledge is integrated, coherent, and contextualized, instead of focusing on how the facts have been memorized by them. The work on formative assessment shows how assessment should not only be used to test students’ abilities but to help them assess their own learning progress.

Education is not a technocratic process which, with little amendments can be shifted to a new paradigm, since school systems are both resistant to change and highly adaptable. Major reforms along with innovations that the reforms seek to encourage will be required at basic consistency and the contradiction whereby assessment and accountability regimes hinder the very approaches to learning needs to be resolved.

For a detailed study, refer the report on OECD/CERI International Conference “Learning in the 21st Century: Research, Innovation and Policy”.

What are your views on the research, innovation and policies required for 21st century learning? Share your views. The Comment Box awaits you.

 Learning in the 21st Century: Research, Innovation and Policy - Part 1
 Learning in the 21st Century: Research, Innovation and Policy - Part 2


About the Author
Author: Saomya Saxena
Educational technology blogger, loves to research and write about tools and tips for educators on how to integrate technology into everyday instruction creatively and effectively. Fond of reading and writing.

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