The Benefits of a Modern Classroom Design
Experts say flexible learning spaces increase students’ engagement and collaboration, as well as their health.
Educators say that modern learning environments have a wide variety of benefits, including increased student engagement and motivation, stronger relationships with peers and teachers, enhanced collaboration and an increased sense among students that they have ownership over their own learning. And, although the modern learning environment is a relatively new concept, research studies and surveys show that classroom design can have a significant impact on student learning and health outcomes.
Still, the modern learning environment is perhaps best seen as a wraparound support for schools and districts that have already adopted and begun to implement student-centered teaching philosophies. While some of the benefits of the modern learning environment may manifest themselves regardless of the context in which they are implemented, these benefits will be magnified many times over when teachers are poised to take advantage of their new physical spaces.
Design Supports Pedagogy
Modern classroom design may be especially beneficial for schools and districts that are already experimenting with or implementing one of the newer technology-enhanced digital learning models that have made waves in recent years. Blended learning, which combines online and traditional classroom instruction and allows students to learn at their own pace, has been shown in some cases to improve math and reading scores and boost graduation rates. In personalized learning models, teachers tailor instruction and assessments to each student’s unique needs and preferences with the help of digital resources. Flipped learning does just what the name suggests, “flipping” the learning model so that students initially learn content at home (often via online videos either created or found by the teacher), and then apply their learning in the classroom with the help of their peers and instructors. Each of these models relies on student access to devices, constant connectivity and a classroom design that supports individual and small-group learning.
Unsurprisingly, research shows that teachers in blended learning classroom environments see greater positive impacts from technology than those using more traditional teaching methods — perhaps suggesting that teachers already using digital learning models will see the greatest success from modern learning environment improvements. According to a 2017 study by Blackboard and Project Tomorrow, 57 percent of teachers in blended learning environments say that technology leads students to collaborate more with their peers, 50 percent say that tech helps students apply knowledge to real-world problems and 48 percent say that digital tools help students take greater ownership over their learning. Each of these numbers is at least 15 percentage points higher for teachers in blended learning environments than those in traditional classrooms.
A Major Transformation
In school districts where major construction projects are not on the horizon, leaders have the ability to experiment with the design of learning environments a little at a time, allowing teachers, students and district leaders to come to a consensus on what works best for their needs. Often, the effects of the modern learning environment are felt first in common areas such as libraries and media centers. The advent of digital resources and e-books has meant that many schools are reducing their inventory of physical books, freeing up square footage where school leaders can pilot new furniture, devices and audiovisual tools.
Over time, school leaders will want to extend these features into individual classrooms, so that technology and collaboration become embedded into the school day, as opposed to being special features reserved for visits to the school library.
Because the modern learning environment represents such a massive transformation, it is important for leadership teams to ask probing questions at every stage of the process. For example, if it is determined that students should all have access to connected devices, districts must then decide whether BYOD, one-to-one or another model will work best and why. Other important device-related questions that leadership teams should ask include:
- How will student devices be charged?
- Will there be times when students aren’t allowed to use their devices? How will this policy be enforced?
- What apps will students need to use their devices effectively? Are there funds budgeted for these apps?
- In one-to-one environments, will students be permitted to take devices home with them? Will they be expected to use them to complete homework? How will the district accommodate students who lack connectivity at home?
- How will devices be monitored and managed?
- Is the district’s IT network robust enough to accommodate the traffic resulting from students in every classroom attempting to access online resources at once?
- Do existing wireless resources support the density that will result from 30 students in a single classroom attempting to connect to a wireless access point?
Similar questions should be asked about investments in audiovisual tools and flexible furniture. For example, buying interactive whiteboards or multitouch digital displays is a potentially transformative investment, but it is also a costly one. Before authorizing such a purchase, district leaders should ensure that all academic departments across all grade levels have had a chance to provide input on how such a tool would elevate instruction. If a district’s high school English and history teachers aren’t sure how they would use these displays, for example — or if their plans involve merely replicating pen-and-paper processes in a digital format — then perhaps the initiative should be reconsidered. Flexible furniture is a more universally intuitive solution, but district leaders should know before making an investment what sorts of learning activities each configuration will support.
Asking these questions before attempting to make big changes can help the modern learning environment truly transform learning, rather than becoming an expensive initiative that goes half-fulfilled.
To learn more about technology, flexible furniture and audiovisual tools, read the CDW white paper “A Modern Learning Environment.”