When it comes to education, the days of the strict three Rs of education (reading, writing and ’rithmetic) are thankfully becoming a thing of the past. Today’s students grew up in a world of digital content that is curated toward their strengths and interests. These “digital natives” are bringing new expectations into the classroom with them, and teachers are seeking innovative classroom design that will forge the way for the future.
Out-of-date architecture and design can hamper the intentions of even the best teachers. A last-century classroom set-up that requires a teacher’s lectern in front of rows of static desks, for instance, imposes an outmoded pedagogy on both instructors and learners. It is, after all, a classroom architecture that is redolent of a unidirectional flow of information—with the instructor dispensing information—and inherently discourages discovery or inquiry from students.
Educators today prefer to apply active learning methods that encourage students to engage with information, technology and each other. Working together, pedagogy experts and designers can build the ideal learning spaces for students of the 21st century. Here are four elements that are informing classroom design today.
Technology into the Classroom
While some educators believe that laptops and cell phones are disruptive, classroom and building design still have to provide options that are flexible enough to accommodate the unique needs of any group of students and their teachers. Many classrooms today are being equipped with desks and chairs on casters that easily enable students to work in groups or alone, as needed.
These spaces also integrate technology like multiple projectors and digital whiteboards that allow notes to be easily downloaded and shared with the class. Educators are also incorporating more rich content that includes digital textbooks, personalized quizzes, podcast lectures and more.
These technological design solutions permit existing buildings to be retrofitted to meet some of today’s pedagogic demands, but cutting-edge design is also pushing the boundaries of our received wisdom when it comes to how new classrooms are built.
Designing for Varied Learning Styles
In education, no one size ever fits all. Some students flourish as active learners in groups, while others prefer to learn autonomously. Classroom design can help accommodate various learning styles, while also encouraging exploration and collaboration along with quiet learning space.
Rosan Bosch, for example, creates learning spaces featuring differentiated zones that permit students to work in groups or individually as needed, while inviting active and varied learning approaches. This firm’s physical designs also create a level of educational autonomy that encourages students to learn at their own pace and in their ideal space. Bosch’s classroom design enables students to explore how they learn best, which gives individual students more autonomy over their learning experience.
Biophilic design—a design that incorporates or mimics nature—has been shown to boost levels of productivity and well-being in the workplace, hospitals and the classroom. Biophilic classroom design seeks to reconnect students with the outdoors and to nature, by utilizing natural-feeling, tactile materials and as much natural light as possible, all of which can lead to increased learning speeds and better focus in the classroom. This design trend might see designers integrating textures and furniture that feel like outdoor grass, or incorporates wood and other natural materials that are more welcoming than traditional classroom architecture.
Optimal classroom design also creates spaces and environments that can be “used by all people to the greatest extent possible.” Universal design strategies involve aiming for equitable use, flexibility, simplicity and intuitiveness, adequate size and space for all, among other principles that make classrooms accessible for all students. Universal design creates a learning-centred environment that provides barrier-free access and can benefit all students as it creates a physically positive instructional climate.