Today, the future of education is defined by informed approaches, as opposed to the temporary nature of “trends.” Through rigorous study, advancements in education and neuroscience are guiding design strategies and revealing exactly how and why certain pedagogical and environmental factors benefit the learning process.
Why has there been such a massive shift in education environments?
More and more, academic institutions have to compete to attract the best and the brightest—and in response, have leaned toward increasingly progressive branding, offering students a wider variety of amenities and accommodating different learning styles to create inclusive and diverse student bodies. Academic institutions have put more emphasis on having their students feel that a learning facility has been created with their wants and needs in mind.
People with a strong attachment to ‘place’ are more self-aware, more conscious of others, and more engaged with the community—and this all starts with placemaking, which is at the core of any good design. Environments with a clear sense of place, where students can comfortably engage with their surroundings and each other, is pivotal to their success. Designers must consider a host of factors to accomplish this sense of place, such as mental and physical wellbeing, neurodiverse appropriate spaces, and a variety of learning environments.
How will health and wellness shape these spaces?
Many schools and designers are prioritizing health and wellness, with a deeper understanding of mental health in particular. Students need room for emotional space as well as areas that encourage them to learn life skills. In order to achieve a more balanced offering of spaces, designers are making sure to integrate areas where students can seek respite or assistance from educators or staff. Access to instructors, counselors, leadership, and other faculty, is key to a student’s success just as is access to spaces where they can be alone or have the ability to choose what they do at that moment––having both freedom of choice and these resources available to them better supports students’ mental wellbeing.
Research has also demonstrated that access to nature provides measurable benefits for hospital patients—this unsurprisingly also applies to education environments. Visual connection to nature provides students the ability to see beyond themselves and their current state.
How will the classroom change in the coming years?
Schools will continue to move away from the “factory model,” which suggests a standardized education environment (also known as a “one-size-fits-all” approach).This shift from the didactic classroom model will instead move toward a more engaged learning approach that accommodates a diverse student body. While there is some debate about the legitimacy of the idea that learning styles vary, there is no question about the efficacy of the team-based learning model in classrooms. Physical engagement with other students and the material being taught is crucial to success in the classroom.
Design elements outside of the classroom will encourage students to gravitate toward dedicated learning or collaboration spaces such as media centers, libraries, art rooms, or other inclusive spaces. The design strategies vary, as the approach depends on how educators envision their curriculum and ways that these new spaces can complement their teaching goals.
Amenities that were formerly not a part of traditional school structures are also finding their way into new facilities. Small touches like genderless bathrooms and meditation rooms seem like minor adjustments, when in fact these offerings are crucial to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for all students.
How will designers create spaces that are more supportive of educators?
Designers seek to meet the needs of educators by providing them with the tools to successfully inspire students through their curriculum. While younger educators navigate pedagogical challenges and technology better, designers must accommodate all faculty by creating environments that easily support ever-changing technology. Schools are also implementing more flexible office spaces for educators, allowing easier access to students and each other. Students with even occasional interaction with instructors outside of the classroom are significantly more likely to graduate. These adaptable office spaces allow educators to feel more approachable to students who need support.
How can designers help to shape education environments of the future?
Our goal as designers is to create more informed, innovative, diverse, and supportive spaces that provide students with the opportunity to succeed. To achieve this, we must be students of science ourselves, as this will help us create successful learning environments. Finally, we must also be able to immerse ourselves into the communities we are designing for, so that we can better understand the individuals that will ultimately inhabit these spaces.