One of the biggest challenges for those in charge of designing new schools, colleges and universities is in anticipating change and accommodating a wide variety of individual and collaborative learning styles.
The overarching response to the changing landscape of education is to create learning environments with inherent flexibility – spaces that can be used for a multitude of subjects and learning styles. Property directors and facilities professionals in the education sector will be familiar with the need for mobile and reconfigurable furniture, for adequate power and storage provision for devices, for moveable walls that can open up spaces and then return them to individual classrooms with ease. Durability and flexibility are two of the only constants in education spatial design.
Technology is one of the biggest disruptors at play here, changing how students access information before during and after class, affecting how teachers plan and deliver lessons and changing the dynamics of both individual and group learning. The potential is now vast – mobile devices, virtual reality, 3D printing, video and gamification will all come to have a part in learning, albeit to varying degrees.
Technology demands flexibility in learning environments. Some of these technologies just require table and chairs while others require projections onto walls, floors and the use of audio; others require large open spaces for ‘virtual’ tours and projects to unfold; or a plethora of smaller spaces where students can work on video projects in teams.
The focus is certainly shifting more toward the efficacy of space and its role in delivering positive learning outcomes and supporting teacher and student requirements, rather than looking at space efficiency alone.
Efficiency is still important though and for those educators facing growing class numbers and diminishing budgets this will always be a concern. Interestingly the drive for efficiency has taken a creative route too as educators look to make more use of and money from their facilities by sharing them with the wider community. Innovative examples include schools that let local businesses and community groups hire their performance spaces for meetings and seminars, and even universities that are co-funding libraries with local authorities, to reduce costs, share resources and cement local relationships.
If the only constant is change, there is little more that those planning educational spaces can do. The focus must be on creating environments that support a distinct variety of possibilities. They must be flexible in every way from the technology to the size and the layout if they are to keep delivering value and supporting positive educational outcomes for years to come.