New Culture of Learning

What is the best way to help students learn?  As educators, we have access to unlimited tools to help students learn; data, digital tools, curriculum, etc.  However, it is important as educators that we not only learn how to design environments to improve students understanding as to how to use these tools responsibly, but that we also model to students how to promote student voice, choice and ownership. Thomas and Brown assert a compelling vision for the future of education in "A New Culture of Learning" by emphasizing the importance of embracing a culture of curiosity, exploration, and collaboration in our learning environments. Traditional models of education must evolve to keep pace with the rapid changes in our world. To move toward creating significant learning environments, the following steps need to be addressed:

Curiosity, Creativity and Motivation: Significant learning environments foster engagement and motivation among students. By promoting curiosity and exploration, students become actively involved in their own learning. When students are motivated, they are more likely to invest time and effort into understanding concepts deeply, resulting in better retention and application of knowledge.  In Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk “Do Schools Creativity?”, he describes creativity as “the process of having original ideas that come from the way we experience the world around us.  If we are not prepared to be wrong, then we will never come up with anything original.”  We must prepare our students to be wrong, or for failure, in order for them to reflect and use their creativity effectively.  Essentially, he explains how some teachers can make students feel that their work is inferior, stifling their creativity and intrinsic motivation. However, he also acknowledges that great teachers have the ability to connect with students on a deeper level, tapping into their imagination and fostering a sense of engagement. This supports the idea that significant learning environments, which are characterized by educators who understand and inspire their students, play a vital role in cultivating intrinsic motivation and capturing students' attention and enthusiasm for learning. 

Critical thinking and problem-solving: Significant learning environments encourage students to think critically and develop problem-solving skills.  Stephen Brookfield, author of "Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions", Stephen D. Brookfield, emphasizes that "Significant learning environments are those in which students are consistently challenged to think critically about the material they are studying, to question their own assumptions, to identify contradictions and gaps in their understanding, and to make connections to other knowledge domains. In these environments, students are actively engaged in problem-solving, analyzing complex issues, and developing creative solutions. By fostering an atmosphere of inquiry and intellectual rigor, significant learning environments cultivate the essential skills of critical thinking and problem-solving that are vital for success in today's world" (Brookfield, 2012).  This highlights the need for students to be consistently challenged and engaged in activities that require them to question, analyze, and solve problems, ultimately developing their ability to think critically and approach complex issues effectively. By emphasizing interdisciplinary learning, collaboration, and real-world connections, students are challenged to analyze complex problems, consider multiple perspectives, and develop innovative solutions. These skills are crucial in preparing students for the challenges they will face in higher education and the workforce.

Personalized learning: Significant learning environments recognize that students have different strengths, interests, and learning styles.  Peggy Grant and Dale Basye, authors of "Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology" assert that by providing personalized learning experiences, students are allowed to learn at their own pace and explore topics aligned with their passions. The authors indicated that “Flexible pathways enable students to navigate their learning journey at their own pace, providing opportunities for acceleration or additional support when needed. This personalized approach not only enhances students' academic growth but also nurtures their love for learning and fosters a sense of agency and self-efficacy." Through these approaches, students can tailor their learning to their individual needs and interests, allowing them to explore topics they are passionate about and progress at their own pace.  By providing personalized learning experiences, such as adaptive technologies, individualized projects, and flexible pathways, students can learn at their own pace and explore topics that align with their passions. This personalization essentially promotes a sense of ownership over the learning process and allows students to maximize their potential.

Collaboration and social skills: In significant learning environments, collaboration is prioritized, allowing students to work in teams, engage in discussions, and learn from their peers. This fosters the development of essential social and communication skills, including active listening, empathy, and constructive feedback. According to Thomas and Brown,  “Learning happens in a social context, and individuals learn from one another through collaboration and active participation. Teams are formed, projects are tackled collectively, and discussions become spaces for sharing ideas, perspectives, and insights. Through collaboration, students not only learn from their peers but also develop vital skills such as communication, problem-solving, negotiation, and teamwork. Collaboration enhances the learning experience by providing diverse perspectives and encouraging the exploration of different approaches to solving problems. It fosters a sense of community, where individuals support and challenge one another, creating an environment that is conducive to deep, meaningful learning." Collaborative learning exposes students to diverse perspectives and nurtures cultural competence, preparing them to thrive in diverse work environments.

Lifelong learning mindset: Creating significant learning environments nurtures a lifelong learning mindset, emphasizing that learning extends beyond the classroom and throughout one's life. By fostering curiosity, reflection, and metacognition, students become self-directed learners who take ownership of their education, seek continuous improvement, and adapt to new challenges and opportunities in their personal and professional lives.  Moore and Bown assert that, “Significant learning environments are designed to foster this mindset by emphasizing the process of learning rather than the acquisition of static knowledge. In such environments, learners are encouraged to be curious, ask questions, explore multiple perspectives, and engage in ongoing reflection. They develop the skills of self-directed learning, adaptability, and continuous improvement, which are essential in a world of constant change. By embracing a lifelong learning mindset, individuals become active agents in their own learning, seeking out new knowledge and skills long after formal education ends."  This belief highlights that in these environments, the focus is on the process of learning and the development of essential skills rather than simply acquiring knowledge. The emphasis is on curiosity, exploration, and ongoing reflection, which foster a mindset that learning is a lifelong pursuit. Significant learning environments empower individuals to take control of their own learning journey, seek new knowledge, and adapt to the evolving demands of the world.

A shift towards creating significant learning environments has the potential to enhance learning in numerous ways. Creating significant learning environments requires a shift towards a culture of curiosity, embracing technology, promoting interdisciplinary learning, fostering collaboration, emphasizing lifelong learning, facilitating personalization, encouraging reflection, and building connections with the outside world. By adopting these principles, we can nurture a generation of learners who are adaptable, innovative, and equipped to thrive in an ever-changing world.



Brookfield, S. D. (2012). Teaching for critical thinking: Tools and techniques to help students question their assumptions. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Grant, P., & Basye, D. (2014). Personalized learning: A guide for engaging students with technology. ISTE.

Robinson, K. (2007, January 6). Do schools kill creativity?. Retrieved from:

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.



© Copyright. All rights reserved.