Understanding the black box of learning and teaching

Understanding the black box of learning and teaching

Given that we now have clearly defined pedagogical quality, and recognised it as a meaningful measure of the worth of learning and teaching innovation, the next question most likely is… How do we do we best measure the pedagogical quality of learning and teaching?

To meaningfully measure pedagogical quality we need to understand the black box of learning and teaching. That is, we need to define the fundamental building blocks of learning and teaching that underpin every and all pedagogical models. Without an external framework to understand learning and teaching our understanding is intrinsically linked to our personal beliefs and experience, and entirely framed within our everyday teaching practice.

Without an external and inclusive pedagogical framework teachers develop their own kind of folk pedagogy, as they prioritise educational beliefs that appear to be the most important in their classroom. What they usually fail to consider is that these educational beliefs may not be viewed as important in other classrooms. The teacher who teaches using inquiry approaches frames their folk pedagogy within an inquiry framework. The teacher who teaches using instructional frames their folk pedagogy within an instructional framework. The teacher of students in the first years of school frames their folk pedagogy entirely differently to the teacher of students in the final years of school… you get the picture.

Within the narrow pedagogical setting of our school this individual folk pedagogy isn’t usually isn’t viewed as a problem. Teachers in a school who teach similar students using the same approaches can build a strong shared understanding of what is quality pedagogy in their classrooms.

Unfortunately a narrow folk pedagogy doesn’t work when teachers who teach different students using different practice try to understand and discuss learning and teaching. Even when they use the same words, words like feedback or outcomes, their usage is personally defined and their understanding limited to their own experience. Ask a hundred teachers to define inquiry or personalisation, for example, and you’ll probably get one hundred different definitions.

The limitations of folk pedagogy do however become apparent when teachers seek to explore pedagogical innovation. When teachers are limited to a pedagogical understanding that is formed only from their own singular experience, they run the real risk of excluding learning and teaching innovation that sit outside of these self-referential pedagogical experience.

Learning and teaching innovators usually choose to take one of three paths: 1) build on the current strengths of their current learning and teaching approach, 2) address the weaknesses of the current learning and teaching approach, or 3) modify a component of their current learning and teaching approach based on a new opportunity. With a self referential understanding of pedagogy building on strengths may be possible, but addressing weakness and modifying practice is much harder as the new opportunities most likely sit outside of the teacher’s everyday pedagogical understanding.

The IOI Process uses the Modern Learning Canvas to move from from folk pedagogy to a more sophisticated, inclusive understanding of pedagogy. The modern learning canvas enables teachers to understand the black box of learning and teaching by defining nine essential components of learning and teaching. It gives teachers a framework to separate pedagogical beliefs that impact student learning from other educational beliefs that do not.

It is essential that a shared pedagogical definition is not pejorative, but rather is inclusive of any and all learning and teaching approaches. This is to ensure that all teachers can accurately describe their pedagogical practice no matter whether their practice is highly teacher centric, highly student centric, or anywhere between. The IOI process in this way is a broad and inclusive church, seeking to provide teachers and schools with a process of learning and teaching improvement through innovation, as opposed to offering a set or specific learning and teaching approach.

As teachers develop a more sophisticated pedagogical understanding they are more likely to understand and assess the worth of new innovative opportunities that sit outside their current practice. They are also more likely to understand the impact that new innovative opportunities will have on student learning, and more likely to be able to make a compelling case for change. They are less likely to see learning and teaching as a mysterious black box!



Teams at the IOI Weekend will use the Modern Learning Canvas to understand the black box of learning and teaching, and to understand, discuss and design innovation learning and teaching practice.

A free fast paced three-hour taster on Friday night will provide you with a shorter experience of the IOI Weekend. This is a free event and will be held at:

May 15th 6PM – 9PM at New Era Melbourne
Level 2 141 Capel Street North Melbourne VIC 3051

Over three hours we will give you a taste the IOI Process highlighting:

  • IOI Pedagogical Quality Framework,
  • IOI Learner Development Profile,
  • the Modern Learning Canvas,
  • how pedagogical quality, effectiveness and capacity can be measured,
  • and get you on your way to develop an Innovation Thesis.

Please RSVP to if you intended to join us to help us with catering (light finger food and drinks.)

Your Email (required)

Bringing a friend ?


Photo credit: Emergence of mysterious Black Box – DDC_0210_800 by Thierry Ehrmann CC By 2.0

2 thoughts on “Understanding the black box of learning and teaching

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *