Today’s classroom should no longer be limited to a box with four walls. Students now know that school isn’t the only place to learn. They come to class every day, bringing their own independent learning experiences and expectations.

We have all seen the video where a toddler is sitting with a picture book, repeatedly pressing her finger down on the page and not understanding why the image doesn’t change. How do we actively engage her in our schools?

Rather than just incorporate technology, we need to think about the new ways our students learn and build the best environments to support creativity, critical thinking and future learning. Advances in technology have allowed children to see that there are no boundaries to limit their natural, human tendencies for learning and curiosty. Our classrooms should reflect that.

The “doing” of learning              

When creating new school environments, we should first ask teachers and students: What do you want to do in this space? What type of activities support the way you want to learn? How does technology impact your learning and expand your horizons? Integrating these questions in the beginning of the design process, provides the foundation for meaningful conversations and allows the focus of design to be on the “doing” of learning.

“Today’s learners need blended learning environments that integrate the use of digital media, hands-on learning, diversity, collaboration and personalization.”

Some students may want to do research and consult with experts online. Others may prefer to get their hands dirty. In other cases, students may prioritize working with their peers, regardless of environment. Teachers are realizing that their students need a variety of activities that best fit their learning styles.

Today’s learners need blended learning environments that integrate the use of digital media, hands-on learning, diversity, collaboration and personalization. How can the twentieth-century, industrial model classroom support all these types of activities and needs? It simply cannot. It needs to evolve and embrace other types of learning environments.

Personalizing spaces

Let’s create smaller, niche spaces for the individual student who wants a quiet place to read, write a story, take a test, watch an instructional video, meet one-on-one with their mentor, or communicate virtually with a field expert. Ideally these spaces allow for independent study but still maintain proximity for needed assistance or instruction.

Let’s also build a variety of shared labs for small and large group activities that involve students who want to work with tools, learn a new craft, code a new app, test their robotic creations, produce videos, or do real “moonshot” journalism. These spaces are meant to be messy and student-led.

We also need spaces outside the walls of schools for internships, real-world application and online learning, large and small spaces for student presentations, performances and guest speakers and flexibility spaces that can be easily converted based on student needs, activities and movement.

By creating these new, technology-rich learning environments, we reinforce that learning can happen anywhere, anytime and anyplace. We know what we need to do. Now let’s get started.