Playing While Learning Together

Today’s classroom designs reflect an on-going evolution in how teachers and schools communicate necessary knowledge, critical thinking and applicable problem solving skills to students.

ES Classroom - The Neenan CompanyHowever, school design remained largely unchanged until the last decade. Prior to the Internet and growing interactivity of learning materials and knowledge, classroom environments and design reinforced and reflected a very top-down approach to teaching. Many of these learning environments were designed to purposely focus the students’ attention towards the instructor located at the head of the classroom, dictating knowledge to students for rote memorization with rigor and discipline. Space making and school design were inherently designed to be hermetically closed environments in which the students were confined for their day’s lessons. Instructors were also disinclined to encourage non-hierarchical learning methods.

Interaction and interactive learning was unknown and underdeveloped until the early 2000s. But as learning curriculum and delivery platforms have rapidly evolved in the last 5 to 8 years, school design has changed considerably in response to conflicting requirements of evolving school curricula. One primary concern has emerged — how to provide safe, secure learning environments and school communities separate from the larger community, while at the same time create and design schools that are beacons of community involvement, interactive learning, adaptive space use and rapidly changing technology and content platforms? Architects, contractors and education professionals must now balance these conflicting and seemingly disparate needs into a singular built environment that fosters evolving methods of community-based, collaborative learning environments, as well as individual learning opportunities.

Contemporary school designs are responding in creative ways that foster non-traditional learning spaces and environments outside of, and complementary to, traditional school hierarchy and classroom design. These new designs create break-out spaces for impromptu learning opportunities, quiet window seating and outdoor space for individual learning, as well as interactive spaces for group play and collaborative problem solving and learning.

As the internet, digital media and interactive learning continue to evolve and become more prevalent in classroom and school environments, school design must continue to evolve and provide adaptive and transformative spaces that can serve the current and future needs of students, educators and communities. Schools are fast becoming the incubators of creative learning methods with collaborative approaches to knowledge gathering, playing by learning, and community-based curricula.

What do you think the future shape of learning and of our schools will be?

William G. Petersen



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