The Plastic Brain

Notes on “New Pedagogies for Deep Learning” (Part 1)


I have been reading a white paper written by Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy as part of what is termed a “global partnership.” Details on the project can be found here (, and the white paper istelf canbe found here.

It is a very well written and researched exploration of current challenges in education. More importantly, it proposes a way forward. The approach is summarised below:

The New Pedagogies for Deep Learning project takes as its focal point the implementation of deep learning goals enabled by new pedagogies and accelerated by technology.

The Place of Technology

Often, in the race to adopt new technologies, the cart be put before the horse. What I like about this approach is that the goals come first, they are supported by new pedagogies and the technology is not even required. However, it does serve a very important role in allowing the process to be accelerated.

Cultural Coherence

Another theme which runs through the paper is that of collaboration and stakeholders. Policy-makers, schools and industry partners are put together, and teachers and students are seen as the key drivers of change, who need support from visionary and cohesive relationships. This notion encapsulated by the term cultural coherence, which becomes the remit of educational leadership.

It is our belief, based on working through successful system-level transformations around the world, that leadership can best address the contingencies of change efforts through serving first as the sustained, focused voice of realignment towards new goals. Leadership next serves as a partner with schools and teachers, together bringing in new measures, resources and processes — all clearly aligned to the new goals. It may sound like a subtle distinction, but effective and sustainable change happens when there is a consensus among all stakeholders that the new goals are a moral imperative. When there is this kind of system-wide shared purpose, collective will becomes the core driver, and change becomes much easier than previously thought. Moreover, the new pedagogies and related technologies are intrinsically engaging so that participants are motivated to go deeper, and do more.

Fostering a Positive Attitude to Change

Okay – so once we have our “moral imperative”,how can we translate that into real change?

Teacher activators along with students in the partnership will collaborate to construct — or deconstruct as the case may be — richer understandings of what the new roles for teachers look like in practice. The partnership’s initial thinking suggests three new roles to investigate:

1. The teacher as designer of powerful learning experiences

2. The teacher as a source of human, social and decisional capital in the learning experience

3. Teachers as partners in learning with students, accelerated by technology

I am particularly drawn to the concept of teachers as designers of learning. I recently moved offices to join the Technology and Design teachers. In doing so, I learned a little of the design cycle, used as the basis of their teaching. I also saw first-hand how students respond to a “design brief” compared to a standard summative assessment. There is a clear distinction in students’ minds between the creative, physical, concrete tasks in Design and Tech, and the dispassionate, abstract, intellectual of Science and Maths. Yet, it need not be so. Learning from my Tech colleagues, I am currently attempting to bring concepts from their world into my classrooms. By that, I do not mean literally drawing or making physical objects. Instead I mean actions such as:

  • discussing the notion that mathematical functions are entities which have been designed for a purpose and constructed to achieve goals and outcomes

  • allowing students to creatively explore not only what experiment they might do, but how they will do it.

  • introducing the concepts of mastery and craftsmanship, refining and improving techniques.

Once the teacher and students can understand and appreciate this design thinking, then the teacher can become a meta-designer, who uses the design cycle when developing and refining learning experiences.

Teachers must know where their students are on their individual learning continuums, and be able to identify success criteria that push forward students’ knowledge and skill mastery at progressive stages of that continuum.

This way of thinking allows the teacher themselves to be more creative. (I’ve always been told that teaching is a creative profession, and it is one of the aspects of the job I enjoy the most)

Teacher as designer also calls upon teachers to be designers of knowledge-based products: the learning activity is the product. This creative responsibility distinguishes new pedagogies from the primary roles of teachers as delivering content knowledge. Digital content and learning resources have the potential to fulfill much of the “content delivery” requirements of teaching, allowing teachers to focus more naturally on creating compelling and personally relevant learning experiences that engage their particular students.

Student-Teacher Partnerships

Points 2. and 3. above, which are on the new roles of teachers, are also worth detailed reading. They serve to guide the transition from teachers as repositories of knowledge to teachers as learning partners with students. As with all partnerships, relationships are the key :

Learning is rooted in relationships, and supportive relationships can unleash the potential of every student…The future of teaching may ultimately center in deeper relationships built between teachers and students, developed through creative, collaborative, socially connected and relevant learning experiences…

…As Laurillard has noted, the investment in technology has been largely a matter of acquisition — buy, buy, buy — not a matter of gearing technology to deepen learning. Technology in education has largely sought to deliver the same kind of content knowledge and basic skill mastery that were the predominant roles of 20 th Century teachers. It is not surprising that many such investments have not significantly changed learning outcomes.

So What is Deep Learning?

If Deep Learning is the goal, then it is clearly important to have a common understanding of what this means. The authors offer a description below, which aligns closely to the concepts of project-based learning and authentic tasks.

They cease to be receivers of content and instead become activators of their own learning, co-creators, and connected change agents. Students doing these things are doing work that is similar to the kind of work they would do in high quality future work. In fact, new research shows that the more individuals are exposed to these types of “real world problem-solving” experiences in their formal learning experiences, the higher their quality of work later in life (Gallup, 2013).

A lot of what follows looks at preparing students for the knowledge economies of the future. When one considers to sheer volume of student work around the world (both within school and without), it seems obvious to tap into that resources for improved learning and societal benefits. Students are innovative, curious and often very talented within their areas of passion. Work they produce could be of real value, if only they were given authentic opportunities to share their intellectual products with real audiences, not just their teachers. Technology is certainly able to facilitate this type of connected learning.

Connected learning [is] learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement. (Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, 2013)

Obviously, not every year level, and not every student, will be ready to launch their ideas into the world at the same time. It seems as though a workable model here would be start students on theoretical (but real-world based) projects for early years, and gradually transition towards truly “socially embedded” learning.

This takes us up to page 21 of 37. Part two will contain notes on the latter sections.


Author: Rogan Tinsley

Biology, science and maths teacher with a PhD in Neuroscience and passion for education.

2 thoughts on “Notes on “New Pedagogies for Deep Learning” (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Notes on “New Pedagogies for Deep Learning” (Part 2) | dr.adenozine

  2. Pingback: New Pedagogies for Deep Learning

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