Rethinking Learning Environments:Why Flexibility in Education is a Good Thing

May 24
Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen the workplace environment evolve to become more flexible, open, and collaborative. As Baby Boomers exit the workforce and Millennials enter, the needs have changed. A quick Google Search will bring up dozens of articles that outline the way millennials have changed the workforce. But what happens before they get there? Is the evolving workplace changing the way millennials learn? Some industry trends in education point to a yes.
Rethinking Learning Environments:Why Flexibility in Educatio...

Student Centered Active Learning Environments (SCALE) refers to a type of classroom in which the teacher acts more as a mentor and facilitator and the students are given the tools and power to learn and discover information for themselves and on their own terms.  Examples of this type of learning are seen in pre-primary education environments such as preschool and in higher education. In preschool environments, children are exposed to a variety of different learning objects and are encouraged to play and learn using the objects that most interest them. In higher education, many universities are moving towards a more collaborative learning environment similar to what is seen in the workplace. Instead of students taking a passive approach to their learning, they are much more active, using technology and collaboration with other students to find the answers to questions and ideas posed by the professor. The image below reflect the current learning environment in K-12 education.


Traditional K-12 Learning Environment


But what happens to the children that are in k-12 who may come from a self-directed environment in their pre-primary years who now are in an environment in which their education is directed according to various standards based on tests. How are they or will they be prepared to enter higher education or work environments that encourage collaboration, flexibility, and to an extent, independence?  The public sector is often behind by decades in what the private sector is doing. However, to help children prepare for future education and work environments, there are some practical steps educators and administration alike can begin to implement to help prepare today’s generation of learners.


1.  Increase the amount of technology used in the classroom, even in kindergarten- While great strides have been made to improve the amount and quality of technology offered in schools, a “digital-divide” still exists across a number of communities. By thinking about ways to raise the funds to provide technology that not only helps teachers teach, but student learn, future generations will be well-versed and comfortable in seeking out the information they need using different technology and methods. Examples include increasing the number of laptops and tablets where students read books, historical documents, research topics, and complete various assignments from one device that is portable and allows them continue to learn long after the class or lesson has ended.


2.  Break-up the standard classroom layout- Walk into any American classroom in any city and chances are a large percentage of them will be setup exactly the same. The teacher’s desk will either be in the front of the room or the back. Desk will be arranged in rows of 5-7.  Most of the time, the teacher will stand at the front of the class and students will engage when prompted. Similar to the higher education spaces shown above, educators and administrators should think about creating learning pods within the classroom that encourage students to work collaboratively with their classmates to learn more about a particular topic. By integrating the technology suggested above with the new layout, students learn how think in a collaborative manner and draw upon each person’s strengths to problem-solve.


3.  Combine the principals of Science, Technology. Engineering, Arts and Math to create a learning environment that combines collaborative learning environments and promote a healthy mind, body, and spirit- The image below represents a space for 6th, 7th and 8th graders that could become the physical manifestation of the theather, gym, labs, learning environments, and communal collaborative breakout spaces that encourage innovation and creativity in teaching and learning. 


While it’s still relatively early to determine what the future classroom will look like for children in their grade school years, we do know that to help them prepare for the future, the traditional model of teaching must give way to more innovative models. Drawing upon trends that are happening in workplace design and in higher education, k-12 educators and administrators should begin to think about what they can do better an differently to prepare students for the future. Practical steps such as increasing the number and types of technology available along with changing the way the classroom is setup are small steps that can go a long way.




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