Designing Learning Ecologies - Language Magazine (2023)

Designing Learning Ecologies - Language Magazine (1)
Designing Learning Ecologies - Language Magazine (2)

How did you spend much of 2020? Hours online? And then came 2021, being both easier and more challenging than we could have ever imagined. Many within and outside the education world agree that the pandemic was a catalyst for change for multiple reasons. It was no longer about how we use technology to provide access to daily lessons or to enhance content and language instruction for our students. Our focus has shifted from how to use technology to support multilingual learners to how to use technology to create digital-age learning ecosystems for them.

Designing complex learning ecologies to advance language development and content knowledge requires that we consider the way we want students to interact with one another, learn by doing, and express their ideas using digital learning resources (Rubin et al., 2022). In our work, we identify several of the key features of digital-age teaching for English learners (or DATELs; see Figure 1) and we advocate for building digital-age learning ecosystems for multilingual learners to accomplish the following:

  • Increase social interaction and engagement
  • Provide authentic communication and contextually rich language practice
  • Reduce the affective filter so that more learning can occur
  • Support scaffolded instruction through digital tools and media
  • Incorporate all six literacy skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and visually representing)
  • Emphasize the five Cs for 21st-century ELs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and culture)

Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners (DATELs)

Digital-age teaching for English learners (DATELs) is the outcome of our decade-long work with English learners (ELs) and technology. The DATELs framework represents a wide range of opportunities for technology integration inside and outside of the classroom setting. This framework encourages teachers of ELs to embrace a student-centered, technology-infused approach that increases opportunities for students to have authentic language-learning experiences by engaging in synchronous and asynchronous class activities.

The DATELs framework supports the development of academic skills and content knowledge while also developing language learning in a low-anxiety environment that increases social interaction among all levels of language learners. This framework shifts the focus from traditional direct-instruction models to project-based learning experiences that increase student agency and develop 21st-century skills. A DATELs approach also leverages the use of students’ home languages and cultural experiences every step of the way.

The Five Cs for 21st-Century Learning

The key features of DATELs promote the use of multiple modalities to engage in the five Cs of 21st-century learning: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and culture. The P21 Framework (2019) led the way to the identification of the four 21st-century skills most important for K–12 learners. These skills became known as the four Cs.

(Video) “Multiliteracies” and “Learning by Design” - Dr. Mary Kalantzis, Dr. Bill Cope

However, we added a fifth C—culture—to include culturally responsive and sustaining practices that recognize and affirm the diversity that all learners bring to the classroom.

We encourage all educators to use the DATELs framework as a starting point to reflect on current practices and take first steps toward creating a digital-age learning environment for a new generation of ELs.

Increasing Student Agency and Engagement

The goal of the DATELs framework is to increase student engagement. Today’s teachers are curators of information and creators of digital content. They design tasks and projects that set groups of students on exciting, technology-infused learning journeys. The DATELs framework outlines the necessary components for an interactive, student-centered learning environment and invites teachers to shift their instructional models to transform classrooms into active learning laboratories. This requires an understanding of project-based learning.
Designing project-based learning activities with the needs of ELs in mind increases access to language-learning opportunities and supports students as they actively engage in the process. At the same time, it helps to bridge the digital divide by supporting the development of essential 21st-century skills. For project-based learning experiences to succeed, educators need to create a sense of belonging for ELs and challenge them to create a product or service to address a concern that connects PBL to their lives, interests, and surroundings (Rubin, 2022).

When designed with intention, your digital-age learning ecosystem will increase student collaboration and communication. Select digital resources that provide more opportunity for ELs to use the target language to accomplish tasks while working alongside their peers. Include carefully curated resources that incorporate multiple modalities to personalize learning and support culturally responsive and sustaining teaching practices.

Designing Your Digital-Age Learning Ecosystem

Carefully designed digital-age learning ecosystems provide students with flexible learning options and choice over how and when they complete tasks. This flexibility, along with curated resources, develops student agency and increases peer interaction. Before you begin to select the appropriate digital learning resources for your classroom, reflect on how these tools will promote student engagement and equitable access to assignments. Empowering students to create and publish multimedia, such as videos, podcasts, e-books, and blogs, helps them to organize and communicate their ideas more clearly and effectively and allows them to reach authentic audiences.

For ELs, the use of images, text, and audio and video assets not only facilitates the acquisition of content-area knowledge but also accelerates the language-learning process by providing a multisensory, multimedia experience for the student.
This type of learning environment promotes student voice and choice while considering the needs of each individual student. Include linguistic, social–emotional, and academic considerations in your decision-making process.
Then, select digital learning resources that you and your students can use together to accomplish a variety of tasks and learning goals.
Consider tools that target different needs, such as:

(Video) Creativity in the classroom (in 5 minutes or less!) | Catherine Thimmesh | TEDxUniversityofStThomas

  • Tools that encourage collaboration and communication between students
  • Tools that allow teachers to manage lessons, create and share content, and connect with colleagues and parents
  • Tools that give students the opportunity to be creative and demonstrate mastery
  • Tools that develop language skills through all six modalities (listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and visually representing)
  • Tools that allow teachers and students to collect and share information with authentic audiences

Here is an example of categories and digital learning resources to consider when designing your classroom ecosystem:
Look carefully at the digital learning resources you are currently using and think about how you might refine your selections. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Which digital learning resources do you currently use? Why?
  • In what way do the tools you have selected provide instructional support and more equitable access to learning experiences for English language learners?
  • How do the tech tools you have chosen foster the five Cs for 21st-century learners?
  • What digital literacy skills will your students develop while working within your digital-age learning ecosystem?
  • What challenges do you face in designing and managing your digital-age learning ecosystem? What type of support would be helpful?

Supporting All Six Literacy Domains

Utilizing digital resources not only can help reduce language barriers but also develops students’ abilities to interpret and utilize multiliteracies via the six literacy domains. In 1996, the New London Group coined the term multiliteracies to address how cultural, communicative, and technological changes were impacting educational practices in a globalized society. In 2014, Boche described multiliteracies as follows:

“Multiliteracies recognizes both the increasing cultural and linguistic diversity in the new globalized society and the new variety of text forms from multiple communicative technologies. There is also the need for new skills to operate successfully in the changing literate and increasingly diversified social environment” (p. 116).

To develop the six literacy domains for the 21st-century language learner, educators need to design learning experiences that provide students with multiple ways to access content and express their ideas, while making connections to spoken and written language through the use of multiple modalities and multiliteracies. Here are a few ideas to think about when designing instruction and integrating technology to support the development of receptive and expressive literacy skills.

Receptive Skills

  • Listening
    Digital media offers ELs the opportunity to listen to authentic language with the ability to control the rate and to pause and repeat the listening activity. ELs can listen to language lessons, story read-alouds, news reports, interviews, and a wide variety of podcasts at any grade level and in multiple languages to experience the target language in context. Platforms like Wonderopolis, News-O-Matic, and Podbean provide various listening opportunities for students.
  • Reading
    English learners can use electronic texts and e-books to interpret and relate information to their own personal experiences. Online digital resources such as Newsela, TumbleBooks, and Common Lit provide information to ELs at a reading level that’s right for them.
  • Viewing
    Viewing requires skills similar to reading comprehension for English learners. Viewing can include everything from images to video presentations. Instructional videos, images, and resources found in platforms such as Discovery Education, Khan Academy, TedED, and YouTube provide multiple modalities for ELs to gain understanding of concepts.

Expressive Skills

  • Speaking
    English learners can express thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively using various forms of digital media to communicate orally. Students can record their own podcasts, provide audio feedback to peers, and narrate digital stories by making use of tools like GarageBand, Anchor, Kaizena, and VoiceThread.
  • Writing
    English learners can communicate through print by using digital learning resources in everyday writing tasks. Students can be authors of e-books, class websites, and blogs. Students can practice writing skills in a more supportive and low-anxiety environment in mediated social networking chats with peers. Platforms such as Storybird, Weebly, Edublogs, and Perusall facilitate writing and collaboration.
  • Visually Representing
    This form of communication requires ELs to collect and organize information, decide on the best way to convey it to others, and produce a visual product to accomplish this communication, often incorporating print and sound (including speech) with the visual images. Tools such as Screencastify, ThingLink, Educreations, and Instagram facilitate communication through the use of visual imagery.

Multiple Forms of Assessment

The digital-age learning environment ensures that ELs have authentic learning experiences, digital tools that facilitate student learning, and multiple ways to show their success in the classroom. When teachers design assessments that include technology, ELs have more ways to demonstrate their learning and more ways to experience success.

A well-designed digital-age learning ecosystem helps transform many traditional assessment practices to assets-based models that better inform instruction and more accurately reflect academic progress. By using multiple forms of assessment, teachers can target students’ performance more effectively, provide modifications and accommodations, and engage in meaningful conversations with students. In a student-centered learning space, those conversations start by creating positive feedback loops.

(Video) Prof Nicola Yelland (AUS): Collaborative research partnerships to create new STEM learning ecologies

Hattie (2009) suggests, “The teacher provides supportive feedback and helps students to learn by acknowledging and using the student’s prior knowledge and experiences, and monitoring to check if students know what is being taught, what is learnt, or what is produced” (p. 6).
This is one essential element for assessment. Another essential assessment practice for the digital age is the use of student-created learning portfolios that provide evidence of mastery and measure student growth over time.

Authentic assessments that incorporate digital learning resources and set clear expectations allow ELs to show what they know and what they have accomplished. Teachers can design equitable and fair assessments that are scaffolded to provide multiple access points to content while lowering the language barrier, thereby making learning more visible.

Digital resources can deliver content and assess student performance in ways that traditional methods cannot for ELs. Traditional methods are largely text-based and limit ELs from participating effectively in academic discourse. When the right technology tool is integrated into content-rich, collaborative learning activities and assessments, it provides multisensory access to that content and increases student engagement and motivation.

The following are some ideas to effectively implement technology to deliver content and to assess student performance.

The use of video discussion platforms like Flip encourages ELs to capture their ideas to post video responses to classroom topics. Student-created speaking rubrics can assess content knowledge and language skills and allow students to take ownership of their learning.

Technology resources and online polling tools allow for comprehension checks. Resources such as Google Forms, Kahoot!, Quizizz, Quizlet, and Gimkit can show what students have learned, increase participation for ELs, and inform instruction.

(Video) 309 - Journal Club #20: Sport Practitioners as Sport Ecology Designers

Virtual collaboration boards like Padlet, Jamboard, and Exit Ticket allow students to easily share their work by posting text, images, links, or videos to answer questions, extend discussions, and demonstrate what they’ve retained at the end of a lesson.

Digital portfolios such as Seesaw empower ELs to document their learning by inserting images, videos, drawings, texts, links, and voice recordings to reflect, revise, and complete their work. Students are given a voice and a choice when selecting the work they feel best represents their learning over the course of the school year.

When teachers design authentic assessments and set achievable goals and outcomes, it not only improves instructional practices but supports student growth and diversity. It is essential that teachers implement fair and equitable assessments to ensure progress is measured and the integration of technology prepares our students for the future.


As we reflect on how best to prepare our English learners for the digital age, we must consider how we provide all learners with equitable access to content knowledge and 21st-century skills within a culturally responsive and sustaining environment. We must also ensure that students can transfer their newly acquired knowledge to career skills and lifelong learning. This type of student-centered learning requires the use of creative, original thinking to find solutions to real-life problems. An important step toward achieving this type of classroom is the intentional design of digital-age learning ecologies that develop multiliteracies and incorporate multimodalities for our 21st-century language learners.


Boche, B. (2014). “Multiliteracies in the Classroom: Emerging conceptions of first-year teachers.” Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 10(1), 114–135.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge.
New London Group. (1996). “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing social futures.” Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60–93.
Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2019). “Framework for 21st Century Learning.”
Rubin H., Estrada, L., and Honigsfeld, A. (2022). Digital-Age Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Equitable Learning for All Students. Corwin Press.
Rubin, H. (2022). “PBL and ELs: An essential practice for equity and digital age teaching.” Corwin Connect.

Heather Rubin is an administrator for the NYSED L.I. RBERN at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, where she designs professional learning experiences for K–12 educators.

(Video) "The Ecology of UX" by Scott Weiss, VP Product Design at Babbel

Andrea Honigsfeld is TESOL professor at Molloy University and author/consultant.

Lisa Estrada is the former supervisor of TESOL, bilingual education, and world languages in Hicksville Public Schools.


What is the concept of learning ecologies? ›

A learning ecology is the physical, social, and cultural context in which learning takes place. Like natural ecosystems, learning ecologies (see Figure 1) have physical dimensions, which may or may not include easy access to nature, science museums, or advanced science programs or internships.

What makes a good language learning experience for a student? ›

Good language learners try to understand the language as a system. They pay attention to form and look for patterns. They develop good techniques for improving their pronunciation and learning grammar and vocabulary. They welcome mistakes as a way of learning more about the language.

What are language learning needs? ›

The concept of language needs

This term refers to the linguistic resources which learners need in order successfully to cope with the forms of communication in which they are going to be involved in the short or medium term.

How does learning take place? ›

Learning is “a process that leads to change, which occurs as a result of experience and increases the potential for improved performance and future learning” (Ambrose et al, 2010, p.3). The change in the learner may happen at the level of knowledge, attitude or behavior.

What are the 3 different types of ecologies? ›

There are many different ways to study ecology. Some types are landscape ecology, population ecology, and behavioral ecology.

What are the 4 types of learning ecology? ›

There are four types of learning environments, each with unique elements. Learning environments can be student- or learner-centered; knowledge-centered; assessment-centered; and community-centered.

What are the two most important qualities of a successful language learner? ›

  • Characteristics of a Good Language Learner.
  • They Take Charge of Their Learning.
  • They're Organized, Physically and Mentally.
  • They're Creative.
  • They Practice.
  • They don't get frustrated.
  • They use memory strategies.
  • They learn from mistakes.

What are the three most important characteristics of a good language learner? ›

Typically, they have a high tolerance for ambiguity, are patient with themselves, aware of their own learning styles and cognizant of effective learning strategies and they are not afraid to ask questions or make mistakes.

What are the four language skills in language experience method? ›

The language experience approach integrates speaking and listening, reading and writing through the development of a written text based on first hand experiences.

What is the most effective way to learn a language? ›

Top tips from experts to learn a language quickly
  • Take risks and speak the language whenever you can.
  • Read children's books and comic books in the foreign language.
  • Consume foreign language media.
  • Immerse yourself in the local culture.
  • Make use of free foreign language podcasts and apps.
Mar 3, 2015

Which factor is the most important to learn a language? ›

When learning a new language, the most important factor is exposure. Does the learner experience the language in the classroom only? Or do they have native speakers in their family at home?

What are 5 examples of learning needs? ›

Examples of learning needs

Could be IT skills, communication skills, complaint/conflict handling skills, problem-solving skills and lots more. Attitudinal shifts and Attitudinal Learning – re-examining our values and beliefs.

What are the four pillars of learning? ›

As a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist, he has highlighted the main contributors to successful learning, which are attention, active engagement, feedback, and consolidation. He refers to these four fundamental elements as the “four pillars of learning”.

How do you develop learning to learn? ›

It is better to learn a new concept for 30 to 60 minutes each day and gradually increase the depth of learning and skill levels. This spaced repetition of concepts will not only lead to successful learning but would also shift the learning to our long-term memory.

What factors influence learning? ›

Factors Affecting Learning
  • Aptitude. This is one of the most important factors affecting learning across ages. ...
  • Goals and Aspirations. Now, just because a person is good at something does not mean that it should be their goal in life. ...
  • Motivation. ...
  • Locus of Control. ...
  • Learning Style.
Apr 8, 2022

What are the examples of ecologies? ›

For example, an ecosystem ecologist might learn how beaver dams affect water flow through a forest ecosystem and how that impacts the survival of aquatic species or the distribution of sediment. A coral reef ecologist might study how changes in water temperature impact coral survival.

What are the 7 levels of ecology? ›

Table of Contents
  • Ecological Level # 1. Organisms:
  • Ecological Level # 2. Population:
  • Ecological Level # 3. Biological Community:
  • Ecological Level # 4. Ecosystem:
  • Ecological Level # 5. Landscape:
  • Ecological Level # 6. Biome:
  • Ecological Level # 7. Biosphere:

What are the 5 main levels of ecology? ›

Within the discipline of ecology, researchers work at five broad levels, sometimes discretely and sometimes with overlap: organism, population, community, ecosystem, and biosphere. Let's take a look at each level.

What are three general techniques used to study ecology? ›

There are three broad approaches to the science of ecology – theoretical ecology, empirical ecology, and applied ecology. These three areas of ecology rarely talk to each other, although one might hope that they could in future evolve into a seamless thread of science.

What are the 3 methods ecologists use to study ecology? ›

The three basic methods used in ecological research include: observation, modeling, and experimentation.

What are the six levels of ecological study? ›

What are the hierarchies of ecology? Levels of organization in ecology include the organism, population, community, ecosystem, biome, and biosphere.

What 2 things are key to learning language? ›

One of the most important keys to learning another language is repetition. You will need to read, write, hear and speak the same words and phrases many times before they fully cement in your mind. Although repetition can be monotonous and boring, it can also be made more fun.

What are the two most important languages to learn? ›

The Most Important Languages To Learn In 2021
  1. Mandarin Chinese. With over one billion Mandarin Chinese speakers in the world, of course it tops the list of most important languages to learn in 2021. ...
  2. Spanish. ...
  3. German. ...
  4. French. ...
  5. Arabic. ...
  6. Russian. ...
  7. Portuguese. ...
  8. 8. Japanese.

What are the three hardest things about learning a new language? ›

What's the Hardest Part of Learning a New Language?
  • The Very Beginning. ...
  • Learning Thousands of New Words. ...
  • Remembering the Words You Learned. ...
  • Understanding Native Speakers. ...
  • Speaking with Strangers. ...
  • Consistency & Making It a Routine.
Jan 9, 2018

What are the three pillars of language learning? ›

Pillars of progression in the curriculum: phonics, vocabulary, grammar.

What are the three key ingredients for language learning? ›

The 3 Essential Ingredients You Need to to Learn Any Language
  • Passion.
  • Comprehension.
  • Repetition.
Jan 12, 2022

What are five rules of language? ›

The five levels of rules are:
  • Phonologic Rules.
  • Morphologic Rules.
  • Syntactic Rules.
  • Semantic Rules.
  • Pragmatic Rules.

What are the 4 most skill required for learning a language? ›

When we say that someone 'speaks' a language fluently, we usually mean that they have a high level in all four skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing.

What are the main methods of developing language skills? ›

Language development starts with sounds and gestures, then words and sentences. You can support language development by talking a lot with your child, and responding when your child communicates. Reading books and sharing stories is good for language development.

What is the concept of learning ecologies Norman J Jackson? ›

Norman J Jackson

An individual's learning ecology comprises their process and set of contexts, relationships and interactions that provides opportunities and resources for learning, development and achievement.

What are the key dimensions of learning ecologies? ›

The learning ecology dimension includes goals and intended outcomes, knowledge Page 4 4 and skill content, processes, spaces, relationships, resources including tools, technologies and mediating artefacts and recognition of achievement.

What are examples of ecological concepts? ›

ECOLOGICAL NICHE is defined as the specific portion of the habitat which is occupied by a particular species or organism. It is the functional position of an organism in the community for examples; a caterpillar and aphid which lives on the same plant occupy different position or ecological niche on the plant.

What is the summary of the three ecologies? ›

In his book The Three Ecologies, Félix Guattari sketched an ethico-political articulation that he called an ecosophy, which was based on three ecological registers: a mental (or psychological) ecology, a social ecology and an environmental ecology, all simultaneously present and mutually influencing, 'overlapping' or ' ...

What is the three ecologies about? ›

The Ecosophy proposed by Guattari addresses our understanding, as part of the environment in which we live, and how we learn and act on environmental issues, based on the three ecologies: the environment, social relations and human subjectivity ( mental).

What is ecological design concept? ›

Ecological design or ecodesign is an approach to designing products and services that gives special consideration to the environmental impacts of a product over its entire lifecycle.

What are the 5 concepts about ecology? ›

Competition, predation, parasitism, commensalism and mutualism are the five major types of interspecific interactions that structure communities. Competition occurs between individuals (of the same or different species) that share a common resource; competitive exclusion or evolution can result.

What are the 5 dimensions of the learning environment? ›

The model approaches differentiation through five dimensions, which are 1) teaching arrangements, 2) learning environment, 3) teaching methods, 4) support materials and 5) assessment.

What are the five approach to understanding ecology? ›

Their different perspectives make the concept ecology sufficiently rich to adopt its best at the end. Five approaches to understand ecology are: Anthropocentrism Biocentrism Eco-centrism Eco-feminism Deep ecology. existence is considered in terms of its utility to humans.

What are the 7 types of ecology? ›

Types of Ecology
  • Microbial Ecology. Microbial ecology looks at the smallest fundamental levels of life, that is, the cellular level. ...
  • Organism/Behavioural Ecology. ...
  • Population Ecology. ...
  • Community Ecology. ...
  • Ecosystem Ecology. ...
  • Global Ecology (Biosphere)

What are 4 examples of ecosystem? ›

Examples of ecosystems are: agroecosystem, aquatic ecosystem, coral reef, desert, forest, human ecosystem, littoral zone, marine ecosystem, prairie, rainforest, savanna, steppe, taiga, tundra, urban ecosystem and others.

What are the 4 ecological principles for understanding context? ›

Kelly's (1968) Ecological Theory focuses on how people become effective and adaptive in different social environments. Kelly proposed four ecological principles that serve as a theory for examining settings and behavior: interdependence, cycling of resources, adaptation, and succession.

What are the two fundamental concepts in ecology? ›

The two main processes that ecosystem scientists study are Energy transformations and biogeochemical cycling. As we learned earlier, ecology generally is defined as the interactions of organisms with one another and with the environment in which they occur.


1. "We must design a new way of living" | Designer Bruce Mau | Louisiana Channel
(Louisiana Channel)
2. Growing Season - Ecology Plus Diversity
(Iowa Master Gardener)
3. Fionn Byrne: “Designing Natures: For a Pluralism of Ecology, Ethics and Aesthetics”
(Harvard GSD)
4. Goldsmith Lecture: Lance Hosey, "Beauty, Ecology, and Design," September 3, 2014
(Texas Architecture)
5. JC20 - Sport Practitioners as Sport Ecology Designers
(Rob Gray)
6. Media Ecology for the OCaC - III - Siegfried Giedion Reunifies the Soul
(Concerned Netizen)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Tuan Roob DDS

Last Updated: 01/03/2023

Views: 6243

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Tuan Roob DDS

Birthday: 1999-11-20

Address: Suite 592 642 Pfannerstill Island, South Keila, LA 74970-3076

Phone: +9617721773649

Job: Marketing Producer

Hobby: Skydiving, Flag Football, Knitting, Running, Lego building, Hunting, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Tuan Roob DDS, I am a friendly, good, energetic, faithful, fantastic, gentle, enchanting person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.