Re-Thinking the Learning Environment
There is always a great deal of focus on the why, how, and what in relation to standards, curriculum, and essential concepts when it comes to learning. While these are definitely important, a rapidly changing world requires the cultivation of disruptive thinkers who have the competence to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems. Accomplishing this feat also requires educators to take into account when and where students learn. The former was addressed in a previous post that looked at achieving equity through personalization. Blended strategies such as station rotation, choice boards, playlists, and the flipped classroom shift how time is used both in and out of the classroom, thus having an impact on when learning occurs. In this post, I am going to focus on where learning can and should happen.
As society grapples with exponential change, schools need to take notice and evolve accordingly. In the lead-up to a curation of a vast amount of research, UNESCO stated the following:
In today’s world, education systems must constantly evolve in order to effectively respond to the rapidly changing demands of the societies they serve. Innovations in curricula, methodologies, materials, and technologies may require major changes in the design and organization of the environments in which they are housed. Innovations can be relatively simple and inexpensive, such as re-arranging schedules and seating patterns to allow additional time and space for guided group practice or collaborative problem solving.
The big takeaway is as simple as it is blunt. As the world changes, so does the environment in which students learn. If we are to adequately prepare future generations for a bold new world of work, then the spaces, both physical and virtual, must authentically replicate where this will happen. UNESCO defines the learning environment as follows:
The complete physical, social and pedagogical context in which learning is intended to occur. The term most often refers to school classrooms but may include any designated place of learning such as science laboratories, distance learning contexts, libraries, tutoring centers, teachers’ lounges, gymnasiums and non-formal learning spaces. The components and attributes of a learning environment are conceptualized in relation to their impact on learning processes and outcomes in both cognitive and affective domains. This term may also refer to the natural environment surrounding school buildings when they are used as a learning space.
Before the pandemic, a great deal of emphasis was placed on redesigning physical spaces in ways that took into account flexible seating (furniture and layout), temperature, lighting, acoustics, and color. A shift to remote learning and social distancing forced schools to revert back to more traditional arrangements, but new opportunities came in the form of virtual environments consisting of vibrant bitmoji classrooms, breakout rooms, purposeful use of technology, and the effective use of learning management systems. Thus, the aspect of where kids can learn was expanded and is something that I address in detail in Chapter 6 of Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms.
When creating impactful learning environments, both physical and virtual, consider the following:
- Avoid overstimulation as this can detract from learning. For example, having too much stuff on walls or posting a lot of material in the LMS can cause distractions.
- Use gender-neutral colors to create a culture of respect and understanding.
- Emphasize natural elements such as sunlight, fresh air, and the outdoors as much as possible. These are hardwired into our brains. Humans have the basic need for light, air, and safety. In this area, the impact of lighting, sound, temperature, and air quality are prevalent.
- Provide choice in seating, tasks, programs of study, and virtual courses. As individuals, each of our brains is uniquely organized, and we perceive the world in different ways. Because of this, different people respond to stimuli in various ways. Therefore, the opportunity for some level of choice affects success.
- Create a virtual option as many students flourished in this environment
- Utilize blended pedagogies that focus on path, pace, and place while developing a more equitable culture.
What works for one learner doesn’t necessarily translate to others. Hence the need to create learning environments that not only challenge all learners to think but also meet individual needs. They must also better reflect real-world working conditions and emphasize the development of critical competencies needed for success. So, where will you either begin or take the next step in the evolution of your learning environment(s)?