How Classroom Design Affects Modern Student Learning Journeys

The modern student is growing up in an unfamiliar world. Life for young students moves at a rapid pace. Control is easily obtained; perception is apparently everything. And if something cannot be controlled via an app, it’s dismissed as irrelevant.

Whilst we may struggle to understand the constant thirst for technological connectivity, as educators, we cannot afford to be oblivious to its effect on the learning environment. Rather than dismiss this quest for immediacy, we should equip ourselves with the techniques to make it an integral feature of our classroom management. Alongside this, young people must be encouraged to explore and discover, be self-starters, whilst at the same time be given coaching and guidance through the most basic of emotions. Modern education sees teachers and tutors trying to prepare our young people for a digital tomorrow, emboldening them to be risk takers in a world that is risk adverse, confident communicators in a time when communication can be limited to email and social media. In a reality where the internet is flooded with information, it’s never been more important to foster a capacity for critical inquiry. And perhaps most importantly in the 21st century, we should allow for opportunities to develop a caring nature in a world where we can all too often feel disconnected from other humans.

Whilst this may sound like a noble ideology, it’s implementation all begins in the classroom. Never has it been more important to analyse and consider the learning environment in which the children of today spend their time. The challenge of educational and emotional engagement is vital in ensuring young whirring minds are kept focused and absorbed by a task.

For years, the setup of a traditional classroom has remained unchallenged. Rows of desks threateningly arranged at right angles have featured heavily in schools the world over. And for decades, teaching techniques and learning styles have been forced to adapt to this archaic and outdated routine.

But it’s now time to chart a different path. It’s time for the modern classroom to reflect the modern student, teaching styles should be complemented, not hindered, by high quality classroom design.

It’s no surprise that the environment is important. But just how big an impact the surroundings can have is revealing. In 2015, The University of Salford launched a study into the impact of flexible learning spaces. By visiting nearly 30 schools and over 150 classrooms across the UK, the study aimed to quantify the effect of classroom design on academic performance. The stats were undeniable. The presence of flexible and welcoming spaces led to a dramatic improvement in achievement in maths. It was discovered that 73% of students’ progress could be directly linked to the flexibility of a learning space and that achievement was dramatically improved by providing ample opportunity for students to take ownership of their surroundings. Broadly speaking, if you invest in your classroom design you can expect increased student engagement and ultimately, better results.

But what does this look like in our schools? How do we utilise the knowledge that a nurturing environment can increase student results? Flexibility in our environment is the key.
If we want to produce communicators, then they require opportunities for regular collaborative group work. Counter-intuitively, to encourage risk taking, pupils need an environment where they feel safe. This can be achieved by making warm and welcoming spaces. In the primary setting, adaptability must be the overriding feature. Spaces that can transform in an instant, with light and multi-functional capabilities should be prevalent. Flexible seating should allow for comfortable independent writing or the perpetuation of an art project. Due care and diligence should be given to the design of the learning area.

The solution to engaging the modern pupil isn’t a one-size-fits-all rationalisation. Ultimately, we must decide exactly what we want our pupils to take away from their lessons and carefully plan and tailor the learning environment to meet these needs.

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