Learning environment trends: Key takeaways from A4LE regional conferences
Last week, #TeamHenderson attended the Association for Learning Environments (A4LE) Midwest Great Lakes and Southwest regional conferences. A common theme among education conferences is an exploration into what we can do as design partners, facility managers, district leaders, educators, etc. to continuously improve the learning experience for students. They’re all about how we can all work together to drive every student to reach their full potential. A4LE’s Midwest Great Lakes and Southwest conferences were no exception. Here are some key trends that were front and center across the country last week.
Midwest Great Lakes Region
Adaptable Learning Spaces for Resilient Learners
Students are resilient and typically adapt well to change. In other words, our design solutions shouldn’t shy away from challenging the status quo. Adaptable learning spaces and building systems should be designed to promote collaboration and cross-department communication. These departments or groups can often be forced to connect through space adjacencies that otherwise might be more inefficiently separated. Sometimes, with their input, going outside the comfort zone of teachers and facilitators isn’t a bad thing. Students’ abilities to adapt to change and promote this cross collaboration should drive the layout of the learning spaces, not the other way around.
Sometimes, the best way to solve complex design challenges and problems we encounter in the creation of learning spaces is by allowing students to take part in the design process themselves – the most creative ideas just might be developed by the students who will be living and learning in the space every day.
Student Engagement in the Design Process
Going beyond the trend of student engagement within the focus group setting is including them in the actual design and construction of their space. Assisting with small fabrication and construction projects within the larger project scope – anywhere from art walls to customized furniture – utilizes a hands-on method of learning, engaging the students from ideation to implementation.
For members of the design team, it’s about engagement and application – investigating how facilitators teach and how students learn, hearing and understanding their feedback, and incorporating that feedback into their new environment with them. For students, it’s about learning the process of design and construction while acquiring trade-based construction skills, in turn creating a lasting legacy and forming an even greater bond between students and the environments in which they spend so much of their adolescent lives.
Transition from Classrooms to Pods
The integration of technology systems throughout educational facilities has been a trending topic for a while now – and it’s only becoming more prevalent. As more districts are transforming a class of 30 with one teacher into groups of 8-10 with a mentor, lesson plan structures are becoming heavily project-based with the incorporation of module learning through online platforms that students can complete at their own pace. What this means from a building systems design standpoint is that the systems incorporated in these spaces not only need to become increasingly flexible but that gathering and incorporating end-user feedback throughout the design process is more important than ever.
Location, Location, Location
In addition to exploring trends inside schools, there’s also conversation buzzing about where schools could exist. Adaptive reuse was a trending discussion at the conference – rethinking an existing structure for the purpose of learning. Whether it’s a historical building or shopping center, building system and architectural designs need to take a creative approach to ensure the adaptation of the space works harmoniously with existing building components. There are several pieces of the adaptive reuse approach that are attracting urban districts. The two that stand out to us include:
- Breathing life back into their communities: With the recent fundamental shift in retail, there are a number of big box stores that are vacant and waiting to be brought back to life. Schools are purchasing these large, abandoned buildings and repurposing them with a fresh approach.
- Reduction in construction costs: This method is also yielding a significant decrease in construction cost (40% on average) which is great news for schools that are grappling with an increasingly shrinking construction funding system.
Continuing the theme of using existing spaces creatively, these same urban areas are seeking to increase parent participation in cities where the average commute can be upwards of an hour. Capitalizing on already existing mass transit hubs, districts and charter schools are starting to look at the possibility of incorporating schools into these hubs – connecting students to an expanded community beyond the typical suburban environment. These high-tech developments and urban settings will lend themselves to a different kind of hands-on learning helping students understand place-based learning within a high-density development.
Overall, it’s safe to say that technology integration is still thriving, students continue to be resilient and adaptable, and the place-based learning philosophy continues to trend. We like to make sure that with every learning environment we help bring to life, students are benefiting most from thoughtfully designed systems and spaces.
For more information on how we support the design of learning environments, click here.