On the blend

Emerging best practice in international schools, 2021

The latest report from ISC Research looking at developments in international education focuses on new approaches to teaching and learning emerging in international schools. Anne Keeling reports

Blended learning takes a leap forward

The Teaching and Learning in International Schools Report, released in July 2021, suggests that many international schools have been moving towards a blended or hybrid approach to learning for several years and many more are permanently adopting a number of the strategies they found most effective during COVID-19 campus closures.

The blended solutions most popular among international schools are project or problem-based learning models, flipped classroom, self-directed learning, and supplemental blended learning. Integrating online resources that are selected by the teacher into classroom instruction is also becoming a common feature of newly emerging best practice.

The rise of the flipped classroom

In the research, international school Heads reported notable benefits from the experience of online learning as a result of the pandemic. One senior leader from an international school in Switzerland said “COVID made us revisit some of the teaching strategies and instructional moves. We are seeing the benefit of some of the tools introduced, but also how these make us revisit our approaches. There are some pockets of flipped classroom, but as we engage in strategy development for our school, approaches like this might become more a whole school intentional approach more than by chance or teacher choice.”

In the flipped classroom, students are introduced to new learning content at home or ahead of class time, oftentimes via an online presentation or a tech-based activity. A subsequent classroom session facilitated by the teacher, using collaborative learning and problem-solving approaches, helps students to develop understanding of the knowledge they have already acquired. This is an approach that 57% of international schools that participated in the research said they were already doing before the pandemic, and many others mentioned they would be transitioning to it in the future. The American School of Madrid, Spain is one such school. Its Headmaster, Benjamin Weinberg, says that within the next two years, the school plans to move to a more blended learning model with an expansion of the flipped classroom approach as well as the introduction of self-directed and supplemental blended learning. Access to new and effective technological solutions combined with improved student engagement are prompting this move.

Problem-based learning

Problem-based learning was also highlighted as a preferred blended learning strategy. This is when students are asked to solve a tangible problem. 68% of international schools that participated in the research said they were already using project or problem-based learning to some extent and are planning to expand on this start. Other schools referenced that they are planning to introduce it very soon, or build it into a more structured, intentional school-wide learning approach. “It marries well with our use of technology and means students can be connected to real world problems and work as part of a team.” said Dr Kristen Weatherby, a researcher and consultant in education technology and teacher policy, who provided specialist support towards the research and report.

Teachers influence change

Many international schools in the research said their teachers have played a significant part in influencing change related to approaches to teaching and learning. 74% said teachers are very or quite influential when it comes to proposing change.

Newly qualified teachers are valued as important stimulants towards change when it comes to the latest skills in teaching and learning. 31% of schools said this is a main source for change. Another valued source is the collaboration of teachers from multiple countries who bring different teaching and learning skills and practice to their school. But the greatest stimulus for change, according to the research, is via new models of teaching and learning that teachers develop through professional development.


However, the report warns that schools should realise very specific skills are needed for teaching in a blended learning environment. “To adopt successful models of blended or hybrid learning, teachers need to be proficient in more than just technology,” states the report. “Teaching in an online environment involves different pedagogy and practice than teaching in person and this will require different types of professional learning for teachers.” The report suggests the TPACK model of technological, pedagogical and content knowledge as vital, with teacher competency being essential for how technology might support what is being learnt and how.


Not just the tech

“What I liked about the research results was that respondents were asked what the most likely catalysts for change in teaching and learning over the last few years had been,” said Kristen. “Very few said it was because they purchased a new piece of technology. This made it clear that teaching and learning decisions were not based on the tech, but emerged from the way in which people were thinking about effective  teaching and learning in often difficult circumstances.. That represents a shift in thinking; it’s about using tech as a tool, not just for its own sake.”

The ISC Research Teaching and Learning in International Schools Report also includes research results and recommendations on assessing learning, and learning leadership. The report is free to download and a podcast featuring Dr Kristen Weatherby discussing the report and expanding on her recommendations is accessible here.


Anne Keeling is the Communications Director at ISC Research who provide data and intelligence on the world’s international schools market.

Download a free copy of the report here: https://iscresearch.com/reports/teaching-learning-international-schools/




FEATURE IMAGE: by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay