Best Learning Moments for EdTech: 2021 Innovating Pedagogy Trend Report

The ninth edition of the annual Innovating Pedagogy report is the product of a research collaboration between the Open University UK with the Artificial Intelligence and Human Languages Lab/The Institute of Online Education at Beijing Foreign Studies University. As per usual, the report proposes ten innovations in pedagogy that deserve attention in a changing educational landscape.

If you are ‘zoomed out’ and feel the need to let your mind go to new places and explore new horizons, than this read is for you. The 2021 report exemplifies the qualities that I cherish about the Innovating Pedagogy Series. It is a thoughtfully curated, yet eclectic mix of pedagogical approaches, instructional ideas, technological topics and policy considerations. You cannot help but find a point of inspiration in the material.

I will not delve into the debate if any of the trends are ‘really that new’ or ‘actually more impactful than anything else the authors could have highlighted’, because, in my view, that is not really the point of future thinking. Instead, the report is an invitation that allows us to dream – about new classes we will teach, articles we will write, ideas we will consider and places we will go in the year to come.

Trends Overview

Ever since the switch in publication date three years ago, the report is released in January right around my birthday. It’s a personal treat to start the new year with a perusal of the trends. My three favorites this year are ‘best learning moments’ (we all deserve these right now), ‘hip-hop based education’ (it’s an intriguing concept to teach through music) and ‘corpus-based pedagogy’ (since I am a linguist by training).

  1. Best Learning Moments: The idea of best learning moments builds on the psychological concept of flow. When I am teaching design thinking workshops, the very best moments are when there is a tangible excitement among the participants. These moments can result in deep learning and high levels of satisfaction. The best-learning-moments approach can be applied in teaching and learning in a casual way by simply asking students what they consider to be their best learning moments and drawing conclusions from their responses for the design of learning experiences for those individuals or groups.
  2. Enriched Realities: It is increasingly normal to enrich day-to-day reality with the use of technology. Lenses in telescopes, microscopes and spectacles enable us to see things more clearly or to see the world in new ways. Portable music systems add a soundtrack to our lives. Scanning a QR (quick response) code with our smartphone links us to information about an object or a location. A decade ago, universities and colleges around the world tried out virtual worlds. They often began by replicating their own setting or campus, which resulted in a diminished rather than an enriched reality. Instead of reproducing the constraints of the physical world, enriched reality is at its best when it is used to create experiences that would not otherwise be possible
  3. Gratitude as Pedagogy: Applying gratitude as a pedagogy in the classroom can also improve the mental health and wellbeing of students and teachers. It is possible that this approach to teaching and learning could be even more relevant in times of adversity as we are still grappling with the impact of Covid-19 on students’ learning and on students’ and teachers’ wellbeing and mental health. One practical approach to implementing gratitude in learning and teaching involves creating a ‘state of preparedness’4 where teachers and students are asked to prepare and examine their attitude before starting their learning and during learning activities. This state helps individuals to become aware of the kind of attitude that they hold (negative or Encouraging self-awareness and reflection on learning can improve students’ experience and appreciation for learning. positive) and the impact this might have on their learning, and on teaching in the case of teachers.
  4. Using Chatbots in Learning: Chatbots are now commonly used in commerce, industry, healthcare and smart homes – for example, in customer service scenarios. In the past, most chatbots have been based on simple sets of rules that determine how to respond to users, but increasingly they use AI techniques which increase their expressiveness. As someone who yells ‘OPERATOR’ on a regular basis, interacting with a learning chatbot is my personal idea of edtech purgatory, but I found it intriguing to think through the idea that learners might be more open to talk through issues with a non-person. The resources section of the report points to an excellent systematic literature review by Pérez, Daradoumis & Marquès (2020).
  5. Equity-oriented Pedagogy: Teachers tend to embody their own backgrounds and cultural expectations in their teaching, but this may not be a good match for their students. Concepts and frameworks such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guide educators and policy makers to make education accessible for all students. y. A pedagogical orientation towards equity requires teachers to really listen to students, challenging them to address inequalities that may be created by some examinations and assessments as well as by uneven access to, and ability to use, technology.
  6. Hip-hop Based Education (or HHBE) is an approach to teaching and learning that focuses on the use of hip-hop, both inside and outside a traditional school setting. In hip-hop courses in the USA, teachers learn how to tap into the richness of hip-hop cultures to engage students in topics that range from Shakespeare to neuroscience. A key aspect to consider and reflect on is that the approach needs to be an authentic learning experience.
  7. Student Co-created Teaching and Learning: Having students work as partners in the educational experience enables their engagement at a much deeper level, as they are more involved and have greater agency through co-creation of curricula and materials alongside their teachers. The co-creation of teaching and learning is a relatively recent innovation that can lead to greater empowerment of students and better relationships between teachers and students, and also between students themselves.
  8. Telecollaboration for Language Learning: Thanks to widely available, free-to-use online communication tools like Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook, Line and WeChat, there are new opportunities for authentic language learning called ‘telecollaboration’. Telecollaboration involves language learners studying in collaboration with other learners in geographically distant locations through such online communication tools. Half of the learners’ communication will be in one language and half in the other, and they will take turns to play the role of a tutor or a learner respectively.
  9. Evidence-Based Teaching: There is a large variation in what teaching and learning look like in different contexts. For example, there are different teaching approaches, such as group work, inquiry learning or technology-enhanced teaching, and students have varied learning needs. This makes the production of generalizable evidence seem rather challenging. However, in recent years we have seen coordinated efforts to assess the effectiveness of teaching approaches that have evolved over time and have been used in teaching. Examples include debunking the myth of learning styles and evidence-based practices for effective homework assignments.
  10. Corpus-based Pedagogy: Corpus-based pedagogy makes use of a corpus, which is a collection of samples of naturally occurring language within or across diverse contexts (e.g. texts in English for academic purposes, forensic English or English produced by second language learners). It provides teachers and students with authentic linguistic data for teaching and learning.

Prevalence in the AACE Research Community

The Innovating Pedagogy report clearly focuses on teaching over technology, which sets it apart from other tech trend summaries. Another characteristic is the mix of novel and long-standing concepts. It makes the report a great starting point to delve into various research areas of educational technology and the learning sciences.

How prevalent are the pedagogy trends highlighted in the report in the AACE research community? We checked the 100,000+ records of LearnTechLib – The Learning Technology Library – here are the results:

Chart: Number of entries in AACE LearnTechLib (abstract only, exact term).

TIP: You can create a collection on any of the topics that interest you most in LearnTechLib and export the bibliographic references as well as full texts to a bibliographic reference manager such as Zotero. Read our article for more information: EdTech Research: Finding, Organizing and Citing Research – Bibliographic Formats & Tools

Innovating Pedagogy Reports are archived in LearnTechLib at


Kukulska-Hulme, A., Bossu, C., Coughlan, T., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Rienties, B., Sargent, J., Scanlon, E., Tang, J., Wang, Q., Whitelock, D., Zhang, S. (2021). Innovating Pedagogy 2021: Open University Innovation Report 9. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

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