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Designing ideal learning environments

Designing ideal learning environments

Designers need to keep pace with technological advancements to create ideal learning environments of the future, says Patrick Bean, head of interior design at LACASA iD

Institutional design, School design

Schools are no longer limited to simply providing knowledge and skills, they need to understand how to learn, about attitudes, behaviour and communication, and the adoption of technology. Educational thinking is changing, there is a shift from teacher-centred instruction to student-centred learning. The spaces our children learn in need to update as well to take into account the role that technology now plays in their education.

Several institutes are pushing the boundaries of digital learning. Vocational colleges, in particular, are striving to keep up with industry trends. In some facilities, students sign up for specialised online class forums with video capacity, allowing them to team up and remotely discuss self-study projects, or even connect with tutors face-to-face. Technological service providers are investing heavily in design to get the best out of new technologies and remain flexible in their use of space.

What challenges designers is the extent of codes and standards, since they refer only to generic school models. The greater issue is figuring out how to avoid the impulse to design schools literally within the existing codes and regulations that need to be updated to make learning more effective.

While most dislike the idea of students sitting in front of computer screens, the real benefit is in teaching smaller groups formed based on their talents and performance. Educators can quickly pick up on misunderstandings or reinforce newly acquired concepts to the set by connecting with every student and not being restricted to teaching to the mean level of a large group.

Fuelled by the digital revolution, ‘maker spaces’ are likely to become common in schools, even as part of classrooms. Similar to the computer labs of the early 2000s, these spaces will first arrive in schools as a single shared resource, eventually becoming intrinsic. Digital manufacturing devices like 3D printers and laser cutters will be everywhere. The focus will move from the cost of these tools to the process of learning. The introduction of virtual reality and interactive spaces will lead to white space design where the environment will be defined by the user.

Schools must be spatially designed such that students are active participants in learning — placing desks in a circle suggests students learn to think critically, debate and become decision makers. Within the circle, desks can also be clustered in small groups to encourage collaboration. As schools are shifting to accommodate 21st century needs, there is a discrepancy that exists between learning methods, teaching methods, and the spatial design required to support them. It is the responsibility of designers and architects to train teachers on using these spaces. If teachers do not know how to use these spaces, the design becomes a hindrance in the same way that open-plan schools failed in the ’60s and ’70s.

Schools often boast incredible campuses designed with the best amenities to attract the fee-paying public. The challenge is to translate these facilities into results so that schools don’t lose sight of their primary goal — education. Simply put, it’s not the amenities but the continuous improvement in teaching methods and most of all, results, that keeps a school’s ranking high.

Considering that the schools of tomorrow, which are currently being built, were designed at least three years ago, it is obvious that to have any chance at educating the next generation well, we need to design schools faster, smarter and with a collaborative approach to ensure that they are capable of supporting continuous advancements in teaching and technology.

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