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The 7 principles of learning


Schools and education systems around the world are having to reconsider their design and approach to teaching and learning. What should schooling, teaching and, most especially, learning look like in this rapidly changing world?

The OECD project Innovative Learning Environments has published The Nature of Learning to support schools as they reconsider their approach to learning and teaching. This publication uses research to inspire practice. It provides a powerful knowledge base for the design of learning environments for the 21st century.

In this blog post we explore the seven principles from the OECD report and provide supporting resources to help you dig a little deeper.

Report cover.

The principles are identified as:

  1. Learners at the centre
  2. The social nature of learning
  3. Emotions are integral to learning
  4. Recognising individual differences
  5. Stretching all students
  6. Assessment for learning
  7. Building horizontal connections

The seven principles outlined here serve as guides to inform everyday experiences in current classrooms, as well as future educational programmes and systems.

Learners at the centre

The learning environment recognises the learners as its core participants, encourages their active engagement, and develops in them an understanding of their own activity as learners.

OECD The Nature of Learning, 2016
  • Can learners articulate their learning, the why and the how? 
  • Can they manage their own learning times and set specific learning goals?

In this short video Michael Absolum asks, "Do students know how to learn?" He explains what this might look like in a classroom.

Survey your own students: How well do you know your learners? Surveying your students to find out their views of learning may help teachers meet their learners’ needs.

The social nature of learning

The learning environment is founded on the social nature of learning and actively encourages well-organised cooperative learning.

OECD The Nature of Learning, 2016
  • Can learners collaborate in a team environment and grow the necessary skills for citizenship and the workplace?
  • What opportunities are there for students to collaborate?

Learning partners – collaboration: In this EDtalks video, teachers from the Kahukura cluster in Christchurch discuss the progress made towards collaborative practices in the classroom.

"What is the future focus principle?" Robyn Boswell, National Director of Future Problem Solving, and Sarah Watts, Future Problem Solving teacher, answer the question.

Emotions are integral to learning

The learning professionals within the learning environment are highly attuned to the learners’ motivations and the key role of emotions in achievement.

OECD The Nature of Learning, 2016
  • How well can learners manage their own emotions? This fits well with the key competency, managing self.
  • Can learners name adults in their learning environment who believe they will be a success in life?

The power of relationships and how to build them: New entrant teacher, Mel Wiersma focuses on how to facilitate and grow relationships with her students, their families, and between peers.

Wellbeing for success: a resource for schools (ERO 2016) describes the practices in schools that effectively promote and respond to student wellbeing.

Recognising individual differences

The learning environment is acutely sensitive to the individual differences among the learners in it, including their prior knowledge.

OECD The Nature of Learning, 2016
  • Do learners believe their teachers know their individual strengths and passions?
  • Are their cultural backgrounds respected and utilised?

Rae Siʻilata urges educators to create opportunities for all students to bring their valued knowledge into the school.

Summary clips of all videos in the inclusive education series: Teachers talk about the importance of spending time getting to know students, building strong relationships, and developing an environment that meets the needs of all students.

Stretching all students

The learning environment devises programmes that demand hard work and challenge from all but without excessive overload.

OECD The Nature of Learning, 2016
  • Are all learners challenged and engaged in their learning?
  • Are learners able to make a contribution to their peers and to their community?
  • Are there opportunities for tuakana-teina relationships?

Sue Ngarimu-Goldsmith, Principal at Te Kura o Hiruharama, explains how a whakataukī ensures that the principle of high expectations guides curriculum decision-making at the school.

High expectations: School leaders discuss the importance of high expectations, together with the vision of Pasifika students as successful learners, improved relationships, pedagogy, and academic outcomes.

Assessment for learning

The learning environment operates with clarity of expectations using assessment strategies consistent with these expectations; there is a strong emphasis on formative feedback to support learning.

OECD The Nature of Learning, 2016
  • Do learners know what is expected?
  • Do learners know what quality looks like and how they are making progress with their own learning?
  • Are learners comfortable with both giving and receiving feedback?

Making learning visible, creative, and collaborative: Teacher Claire Buist talks about building a learner focused environment through learning conversations and peer feedback.

Wellington College art teachers Nikki Maetzig and Matt Jarry explain the process they use in their department to help students manage their time wisely and drive their own learning by giving and receiving effective feedback. 

Assessment for learning in practice: These key assessment capabilities explain how teachers can develop the assessment for learning dynamic in their classrooms.

Building horizontal connections

The learning environment strongly promotes “horizontal connectedness” across areas of knowledge and subjects as well as to the community and the wider world.

OECD The Nature of Learning, 2016
  • Can learners relate their learning to real life contexts?
  • Are there opportunities for learners to connect with and learn from their wider community and their environment?

Students moving through the Mount Roskill campus have consistent understandings of learning progressions in literacy and share a common language of learning.


Leading culture change at Oranga School: Juliet Small discusses how staff at Oranga School moved towards the culture of learning from parents, families, and whānau.

Funds of knowledge: How can we make visible, draw upon, and celebrate the rich funds of knowledge that our students bring with them to the classroom?