Search this Site

Close

When I Was in School…Today’s Learning Environment

By Jeremiah Hatfield, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

March 2, 2022

 

“When I was in school…” We’ve all heard this line before, and as a parent of four children I’ve said it more than I’ve heard it from others. We say it when things have changed. Do things change all that much though? Have enough things changed?  As a designer for spaces of learning environments, let me share what we hope continues to change in these learning environments.

 

When I was in school, learning was a highly structured and teacher-centered experience. Students sat in rows, teachers instructed, students raised their hands for questions with the goal of memorizing facts or sets of exercises. This approach of teaching has been coined “convergent”. Over the last few decades, more schools have embraced the opposing approach called divergent teaching. This style of teaching is student-centered and activity based. It facilitates critical thinking and problem solving through self-expression. Most educators agree there is a need for both approaches, however, in most cases the classroom itself has remained stubbornly unchanged.

Vintage Classroom
Vintage Classroom
Vintage Classroom with Chalk Board

When I was in school, every classroom contained desks in neat rows with a clear “front” of classroom where the teacher utilized a white board (ok, it was a chalkboard) and a projector screen. These environments still work but don’t fully support student engagement for divergent teaching sessions.

Vintage Classroom with Chalk Board

When I was in school, group projects were rare, but when they were assigned, they were typically art-based projects. Today 21st Century Skills are emphasizing communication and collaboration. New Tech Network Schools combine traditional subjects and challenge students with research-based group learning. Technology is integrated at multiple levels not only to communicate and present subject matter, but to extend beyond the parameters of a textbook.

New Learning Environment
New Learning Environment
Huntington Hub

When I was in school, I was likely being prepared for a job in a cubicle performing a specific set of tasks. Today the work environment is a collaborative, flexible, adaptable, and supportive space with less walls and more openness. Many of us don’t work at a desk all day. Decisions are made on couches, problems are solved at booths, and many people can work remotely. Today’s learning environment must prepare students for today’s work environment.

Huntington Hub

Today for schools, we are designing environments that reflect divergent learning.

Learning also happens outside of the classroom. We are creating various styles of spaces outside the classroom where students can still be supervised but also have levels of freedom and flexibility to research, communicate, and collaborate.

Huntington Hub Parkview Education Center Huntington Hub
Huntington Hub Parkview Education Center Huntington Hub
Junior Croninger Elementary TV Studio

Specialized learning labs should be showcased.

Don’t hide customized labs with expensive set-ups and equipment. Students love to be proud of their spaces, and it often attracts those who might initially be timid to try new things.

Junior Croninger Elementary TV Studio

Classrooms must be spontaneously adaptable.

We are creating spaces that can change from lecture style to group style learning in minutes. This means technology, equipment, and furniture must support various set-ups.

Today's Learning Environment
Today's Learning Environment

 

Going back to “when I was in school” gives us valuable insights, and will drive many changes moving forward. There are benefits to all of the various ways of teaching and learning, and as architects and engineers we are observing the learning environment carefully to see how to best encourage student success.

 

To view some of Design Collaborative’s K-12 and education projects, click here!

Copyright ©2022 Design Collaborative