Studies show that active learning — group work, activities and discussions — increases student performance in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Architects and others who design learning environments can improve student performance by keeping knowledge about student learning — and flexibility — in mind, according to a piece in Building Construction and Design.
Written by an architect after attending a workshop at the California State University of Los Angeles's Center for Effective Teaching and Learning, the article says It's possible to have a successful active learning environment without high-tech tools. But if educators do lean on technology, they must make sure equipment is charged and ready to go. Malfunctions in equipment cost valuable class time.
Students are used to absorbing knowledge through technology and in multiple ways. They are fast learners, and can jump into lessons on new platforms quickly. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they find traditional lectures dull. But when they are exposed to active learning in an environment that mimics modern workplaces, students see the relevancy in their classwork and become more engaged.
Schools across the country are reimagining their spaces to align with the way students today learn best. Flexibility —acknowledging that one type of seating doesn't suit every student, and that their needs might change down the road —is a key principle behind this design thinking. Large, open spaces can be used for smaller break-out groups that facilitate customized instruction. Students might sit on stools, soft seats, mobile chairs, or the floor, or even stand. Video game chairs also make an appearance.
Students owning the space, and their learning, is another hallmark of these new "learning commons." Teachers who allow flexibility, even in so far as the material, design, and arrangement of the furnishings, are modeling risk taking, which, anecdotally at least, seems to inspire students to take responsibility for their own success.
School libraries are being revamped as curiosity centers, an intersection of knowledge and ideas. Flexibility comes into play here as well, with modular furniture, mobile makerspaces, production studios and more, so that the libraries are being routinely used for multiple purposes. Books are not disappearing, but in some schools, are actually being checked out more often than ever. Comfortable, lounge-style seating is more enticing for reading sessions, and some school libraries are moving toward a book-store style shelving model, so it's more intuitive for students to find what interests them. Shelving may be on wheels, though, which allows for that key flexibility in use of the library space.