Confronting ethics, engaging multiple senses, and overcoming barriers to learning: Important challenges for education over the next 5 years

‘Engaging with data ethics’ and ‘multisensory learning’ are two of the top ten approaches to learning and teaching in this year’s Innovating Pedagogy report from The Open University. The eighth edition of the report was produced by academics at the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology in collaboration with researchers from the National Institute for Digital Learning at Dublin City University.

This year’s report highlights the theme of ‘artificial intelligence in education’ and the ethical challenges surrounding sharing of personal data. Lead author Professor Agnes Kukulska-Hulme writes in the Introduction: “In many societies people have concerns about computers acting in ways that imitate humans to the point where it is very difficult (and soon perhaps impossible) to distinguish between people and machines… Pedagogical innovations need to support understanding by guiding students in how to analyse emerging issues around technology, how to formulate challenging questions, and how to examine different perspectives.”

Several trends draw attention to how innovations increasingly make use of multiple senses, such as touch, taste and smell, to support processes such as memorisation and understanding. In ‘esports’ – competitive games played on online platforms that can have educational value and support informal learning – the addition of virtual reality can enhance the sensory experience of these games.

The report also addresses the challenge of overcoming barriers to learning. To combat lack of internet access or prohibitive costs of using the internet, ‘offline networked learning’ offers an approach based on low cost, low power network hubs that enable teachers and students to connect with each other and share resources via their mobile devices. Online laboratories, on the other hand, take advantage of good internet connectivity to enable students to undertake laboratory experiments without having to be in the lab.

The ten highlighted themes in the Innovating Pedagogy 2020 report are:

Artificial intelligence in education 

This theme covers learning for, about, and with AI. Student-facing applications include tutoring systems, exploratory learning environments, automatic writing evaluation and conversational agents. Teacher-facing applications might support teachers to enhance their teaching.

Posthumanist perspectives

Posthumanism opens possibilities to learn with animals and machines as partners. The hope is that we can imagine many beneficial relationships between humans, the environment, animals and technology.

Learning through open data           

Many governments, and a wide and growing range of global and local organisations are sharing the data that they create and use in their work. Engagement with open data connects learners with societal movements to encourage greater data literacy, transparency and evidence-based action.

Engaging with data ethics  

There are the ethical issues centred on data, such as who owns the data, how it should be interpreted, and how the privacy of learners and teachers should be protected. Teachers can enable learners to ‘play’ with their own data and learn what the limitations of sharing data may be.

Social justice pedagogy

Education can help people address their unconscious biases as well as the injustices in their own lives and in society. Social justice pedagogy aims to enable students to become active citizens who understand social inequalities and can contribute to making society more democratic and egalitarian.


Esports, or electronic sports, are a form of competitive video gaming which is broadcast and played on the Internet. Esports have become a global leisure activity, but they also offer opportunities for education. They can be a way to support digital literacy, numeracy, socialisation and teamwork.

Learning from animations

Showing learners short animated movies of a dynamic process can reveal aspects that are too fast to follow, or too small or inaccessible to see. Learner-created animations are a way to support self-expression and have been used as a prompt for activities such as creative story writing.

Multisensory learning

Human beings have many senses, including touch, taste and smell. Stimulation of sensory channels and combinations of channels during learning can prove beneficial, resulting in learning gains and deeper understanding, as well as greater enjoyment, though it might not be suitable for every learner.

Offline networked learning

Using the Internet for networked learning is not always possible. Offline networked learning is available thanks to low cost, low power network hubs like Raspberry Pis. It can support conversation, collaboration, resource sharing, visualisation and consolidation, thus enhancing the process of learning as well as the outcomes.

Online laboratories

An online laboratory is an interactive environment for creating and conducting simulated science experiments. The aim is for a student to experience the procedures of carrying out an experiment, including the consequences of making mistakes, and to get results.


Innovating Pedagogy 2020 can be accessed at:

About the Innovating Pedagogy Report

This is the eighth in a series of annual reports on innovations in teaching, learning and assessment. The Innovating Pedagogy reports are intended for teachers, policy makers, academics and anyone interested in how education may change over the coming years.

The 2020 report introduces ten pedagogies that either already influence educational practice or offer opportunities for the future. By ‘innovative pedagogies’, we mean novel or changing theories and practices of teaching, learning and assessment for the modern, technology-enabled world.

Together, the eight reports have described 80 innovative pedagogies to date. Some of these, such as MOOCs, have had a major impact on education worldwide.