Creating Flexible Learning Environments Where Students Can Succeed
It used to be that prior to the age of 18, young people would spend half their lives in school. These days, classrooms have become bedrooms, kitchens, a parent’s office or anywhere with a strong WIFI connection. While traditional classrooms haven’t disappeared, they stand in contrast to the needs of today’s students.
The physical and digital spaces where education takes place have long term psychological impacts on students’ ability to feel safe, welcome and absorb knowledge, as well as how they behave, learn and relate to one another.
“We must reconsider and rebuild educational spaces to be accessible to all; to meet students where they are and easily flex to new and changing needs,” said Russell Devenish, CDI President.
In a time when education has undergone tremendous change, how can schools best move forward?
Enter the Flexible Classroom
Teachers already have a big job in managing a classroom, the question becomes, “How can I help my students learn the way that they learn best?”
Enter the flexible classroom…
A flexible classroom is a space that is dedicated to enabling student choice. This gives students the autonomy to choose how they learn, demonstrate knowledge and collaborate and engage with others. Flexible learning environments are becoming a priority in schools as they enable teachers to create unique environments that emphasize individual learning styles.
The Benefits of Flexible Classroom Design
In the last few years, flexible classroom design has become a hot topic in education. As researchers and teachers learn about the different ways in which students learn, they have determined that a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not result in the best outcomes.
The impact of flexible classroom design is hard to quantify because there are many factors to consider including lighting, air quality, layout and noise. But some of the reasons why flexible classroom design benefit teachers and students include:
- Increased Movement: Traditional classroom settings include hours of sitting, which can hinder student’s academic performance and overall health and wellness. Flexible classrooms encourage students to bounce, learn, stand and wiggle. These movements boost mental sharpness and help students perform better in school.
- Boosts Academic Performance: Physical classroom environments can maximize students’ educational outcomes. A classroom’s structural features (ie. noise, lighting) and symbolic features (ie. wall decor, everyday objects) can have a positive impact on student learning and achievement.
- Enhanced Collaboration: Rather than feeling possessive about a desk and their personal space, students learn to work together as they negotiate seating arrangements and interact with classmates from their standing desks, soft chairs and floor mats.
- Improved Comfort: Uncomfortable classrooms distract students and hinder their ability to listen to the teacher, understand concepts, and retain information. By implementing flexible seating, students are more likely to listen and learn and are less likely to feel anxious or stressed.
When isolated from other measured factors, classroom flexibility is about as important as air quality, lighting or temperature in boosting academic performance and driving better student outcomes.
Designing Classrooms for Flexible Learning
Classrooms today are evolving to meet students’ needs and adapt to their learning experience. As students look to school not just as places of learning, but as places to feel safe, engaged and included – there will be an ongoing emphasis on educating and nurturing the whole student and their well-being.
Today’s flexible learning spaces must incorporate these three design principles to meet the needs of learners and educators:
Inclusivity. Flexible learning spaces must break down the barriers that separate remote and in-room participants. It’s important to ensure that everyone is seen, heard and has equal ability to contribute. Some things to consider:
- Provide flexible furniture so people inside the room can move around freely
- Evaluate everything that affects acoustics: the size of the space, boundaries, materials and speakers
- Versatile lightning to adapt to different educational programs and activities
Engagement. Flexible learning spaces should be designed across a range of settings which are inviting, comfortable and make collaboration easy. This includes:
- Tools such as whiteboard cameras or digital whiteboards
- Design layouts that provide optimal sightlines to students learning remotely and content (digital and analog) to ensure equal participation
Flexibility: Flexible learning spaces should be designed for a variety of intuitive, easy-to-navigate virtual and physical experiences. Some things to consider:
- Choose furniture that’s easy-to-move and supports transitions, with clear sightlines to people and content
- Enable seamless and simple transitions across multiple interfaces and displays
Today’s students require environments that encourage discovery and deeper learning. Flexible design is fundamental to the next generation of teaching and learning. Providing options for students to choose where they feel they learn best gives them a voice and an active role in their education, resulting in significantly increased engagement.
As we look to the future, we must reconsider and rebuild educational spaces to be accessible to all; to meet students where they are and easily flex to new and changing needs.