What to consider when building a flexible learning environment
Learning is changing, slowly shifting from ‘chalk and talk’, to ‘guide on the side’. Here are our suggestions for creating a more flexible learning space.
A Choice of Spaces
Every single one of us has a preferred learning style. Whether we consider ourselves more perceptive to visual images, or require clear auditory instructions, our ability to process information varies from one individual to the next. As educators we must be sensitive to the fact that within every class, our pupils will present a vast array of learning styles and needs. It is important that our learning spaces are designed with this in mind. It is also crucial to remember that not every task will require the same level of intensity, and that working spaces should be provided to cater for a wide range of activities and learning styles.
For projects requiring a clear and dedicated mindset, then individual high focus spaces are vital. These spaces allow students an opportunity to work individually and without interruption. A typical high focus working space should include both visual and acoustic protection, and is likely to be situated at a distance from the more collaborative spaces.
When the level of concentration can be relaxed, individual low focus spaces can be introduced. These less isolated workstations may be situated in busier areas where the low buzz of productivity can inspire and motivate learners. Low focus spaces are useful for tasks that don’t require such intense concentration and allow constructive opportunities for students to engage with their teachers’ and peers.
Collaborative spaces for larger groups are useful for joint assignments, they should aim to contain a large table and easily accessible AV equipment. Writable surfaces and flexible seating are essential as they allow students to brainstorm ideas and move around the collaboration zone easily.
More open spaces can be used for peer to peer discussions, they also serve as a useful space for teachers to meet with their students on an individual basis. Small booths, such as the railway carriage or Nelson seat, can help to create individual and distinct zones with the sensation of seclusion, but are open enough to ensure sight lines and pupil supervision are always suitably maintained.
Breakout spaces with soft seating can be useful within flexible learning environments as modern students often seek a less formal setting to complete less rigorous tasks.
Choosing Furniture and Finishes for your flexible learning environment
School environments are subject to heavy demand, so it’s essential that furniture should be durable enough for the required purpose. Schools are also increasingly keen to have multiple uses for their working spaces, making furniture with multiple purposes more desirable. Whether this is soft seating with integral device charging, or tables with writable whiteboard surfaces, intelligently designed and durable furniture and facilities provides more options for the use of a space. Multiple uses for items of furniture ensures a less cluttered environment and a more pleasant space in which to teach and learn.
Whilst classroom furniture may be cleverly designed to provide various uses, it will only be truly successful in its environment if it is comfortable. Primarily, furniture should be ergonomically suited to the age, size and requirements of your students. If a variety of age groups will be utilising the same space, consider integrating desks or tables with adjustable heights, and provide a selection of suitable seating, rather than lazily employing a one size fits all policy.
Similarly, consider if rectangular tables are actually best suited to your students’ needs. It is now possible to provide any number of unique table shapes, so decide if tradition or necessity are dictating the style and design of your work surfaces. By blending a range of shapes within your space you can increase or decrease student occupancy, as well as creating a range of different learning zones.
Devices and Connectivity
Calming and uncluttered flexible learning environments have a large effect on student wellbeing. Recent studies have shown that the quality of the environment in which students learn can impact exam results by up to 25%.
Opting for a user-centred design of your flexible learning environment will help empower students. Here at Envoplan we have tried and tested means for collecting user feedback through focus groups and feedback sessions.
Within a flexible learning environment, you will also need to consider which elements of the design are going to require individual bespoke attention, for example personal storage of bags and other lesson resources, or device charging. Careful consideration must be given to exactly how every aspect of a space is going to be utilised to ensure nothing is overlooked. Water fountains, lockers and other crucial day-to-day elements of school life should be seamlessly integrated into the environment to ensure the optimal use of any newly designed area.
Empowering the Educator
Research and feedback from schools that have implemented a more flexible learning environment report that teachers can sometimes feel isolated and unprepared for a new space. If you’re introducing flexible learning environments within your school, it is important to ensure all potential users of an area play a part in the consultation and design period. Those that use the space the most are often neglected during discussions regarding the development of an area. It is vital to canvas the opinions of teachers and students to find out what features they most desire in any redesign.
A more open plan and flexible learning space can require teachers to draw on new or unfamiliar skills. If this is the case, then a suitable training program should be implemented to ensure that any new learning areas are embraced, rather than resented.
Every school is unique
The success of your project lies with those who will be using it the most. If you are considering a new flexible learning environment within your school, implementing a change management team will be a wise move. Any change, curriculum or environment based, requires sensitive introduction and well considered training, for both staff and students alike. Ensure you achieve the best return on investment by managing the effect the new scheme has on your staff and students. We would advise setting up an ongoing ‘change management team’ to ensure your school’s unique needs are met. Change management teams provide a forum for user feedback, keep communication lines open and ensure the overall long-term success of your investment.
Considering a new flexible learning environment? Envoplan can help you with long term strategy as well as user-centred design and project implementation.
Contact us on +44 (0) 20 8997 9656 or firstname.lastname@example.org