Classroom design has come a long way in the last few decades. There has been a massive shift away from the classroom’s origins as rigid, structured places of teacher-centered learning. Today, classrooms are embracing technology and more flexible approaches to learning for the benefit of everyone in the classroom. How can teachers take advantage of this trend for their students?
Classroom Design: Then and Now
Rows of seats. Instructor front and center. Student eyes trained on the teacher. This classroom model worked well for centuries. It was efficient and easy to set up. Old-school classroom design supported the idea that teachers impart knowledge to students – the one-to-many transmission philosophy of teaching.
Traditional tech did this well – the blackboard or overhead projector for the teacher at the front of the room; students using pencil and paper to take notes.
However, today education is in a state of rapid change and traditional approaches are becoming ineffective for the needs of the modern student in the 21st century classroom.
The transmission model described above is now being replaced by a constructivist approach. Constructivism is all about students and instructors developing knowledge together. It’s the opposite of the passive student taking notes while the teacher lectured. At its core is the idea that meaningful learning is a creative process.
This shift is both a result of, and further propelled by, technology. There are many influences including the internet, personal computing devices, interactive displays, and collaborative software. Evenn social media and YouTube are playing a part. Within this fluid environment, educators are striving to adapt.
21st Century Design
One important adaptation is the shakeup of classroom design. Schools are creating classroom layouts that support successful 21st century learning. A key to today’s classroom design is flexibility – the ability to rearrange components supports the many faces of constructive learning.
Versatility enables learners to actively conduct experiments, to perform real-world problem-solving, and to gather in groups to collectively process information. Instructors, meanwhile, facilitate and guide activities to help students expand their knowledge.
21st-century classrooms design trends utilize many new layouts, including:
- Flexible seating
- The modular classroom
- Starbucking the classroom
- Classroom cribs
- Next-generation classroom design
- Evidence-based learning environments
- Learner-centered spaces
- Active learning environments
Marianne Emery, a fifth grade teacher and a participant in the CUE Bold Classroom Cribs initiative, was inspired by a visit to a flexible seating classroom and calls her classroom redesign the “best decision I ever made.” She discusses her success with next-generation classroom design in her blog, Rockin’ it in Fifth Grade.
How Classroom Design Affects Student Performance
Research reveals the importance of classroom design. Without a doubt, classroom design has a big effect on student engagement and academic performance. A landmark 2012 study found that classroom design alters academic progress over a school year by 25%. Strikingly, that impact can go either way – positive or negative.
That is, a child in the best environment would do 50% better than an equivalent child in the ‘poorest’ classroom environment. In fact, the best- and worst-designed classroom difference accounted for a full year’s worth of academic progress.
5 Design Factors in Student Performance
The study found these five key design factors account for 73% of the variation in student performance.
- Color – Providing enough visual stimulation around the classroom using color on walls, floors, and furniture.
- Choice – Quality furniture, including interesting and ergonomic tables and chairs, should support a sense of ownership.
- Complexity – Providing novel surroundings and attention-grabbing decor in balance with orderliness.
- Flexibility – The ability of a classroom to accommodate students without crowding them. The ability to rearrange furniture for a variety of activities and teaching approaches.
- Light – Quality and quantity of natural light, and the degree of control of the level of lighting.
3 Basics of Classroom Design
Follow up studies provided insight into the relative impact of each of these factors. The authors of this major 2015 classroom design study hypothesized that “clearly from the literature, it can be anticipated that the built environment of the classrooms will have a great impact on pupils’ academic performance, health and wellbeing…”
Their study confirmed the impact of physical classroom features on academic progress. It found three categories that account for the difference in performance:
- Naturalness – This category accounts for around 50% of the impact on learning. It’s about factors needed for physical comfort. These include light, sound, temperature, air quality, and “links to nature.”
- Stimulation – This category refers to the vibrancy of the classroom. It accounts for about 25% of differences in learning.
- Individuality – This category accounts for the remaining 25% in learning differences. Individuality encompasses how well a classroom meets the needs of students by offering: 1) Ownership (how identifiable and personalized the room is); b (how well the room addresses the needs of an age group and variable teaching methods); and 3) Connection (a measure of how readily students can connect to the rest of the school).
Effective Classroom Design Practices
Educators are embracing the need to adapt learning spaces. The specifics of the classroom designs differ due to curriculum, class size, space, budget constraints, and the like. However, two factors are common – 1) the flexibility to deliver adaptable, active learning spaces; and 2) the integration of technology that fosters collaboration and sharing.
Flexible classroom design creates learning environments that can be continuously adapted for changing needs. These classroom layouts model the flexibility we want for our up-and-coming generations.
In a case study published by Edutopia, the author highlights the key benefits of versatility in classroom layouts: “Flexible classrooms give students a choice in what kind of learning space works best for them, and helps them to work collaboratively, communicate, and engage in critical thinking.”
The internet is full of tips to help teachers create future-forward classroom design on a budget. Districts can source products from education furnishings makers in lockstep with the trends.
Classroom design pros recommend including the following:
- Selective Seating – Offer a variety of seating options. The goal: enable student choice and support different work styles and activities. Options can include couches, floor pillows, bean bag chairs, traditional chair/desk combos, and DYI seating.
- Mobility – Look for wheeled bookshelves, chairs and other furnishings. Engage students in rearranging them to open the room or create cozy collaborative nooks.
- Collaborative Configurations – Replace single workspaces with large round or rectangular tables. Put desks together to form collaborative workspaces.
- Huddle Spaces – Take a cue from the business world where huddle spaces reign. These spaces offer convenient seating plus tech like audio, display, and sharing software. They’re ideal for small group work. In education they go by a variety of names: teaming tables, media tables, lounges, hublets, coves, team gardens, learning suites, informal learning environments, or learning labs. By any name they’re ideal for 21st century cooperative learning.
Flexible Classroom Layouts Provide the Environment Kids Need
The experience of Albemarle County Public Schools in Albemarle, VA shows the tremendous benefits of embracing the new. After implementing flexible classroom design, ACPS educators found that:
- Student grades improved
- Students seemed happier and more engaged
- Student participation increased
- Students were having more invigorating conversations
“We’re really looking at how we support kids working collaboratively. And we can’t do it if they’re isolated in rows and every kid is an island,” said Becky Fisher, the director of educational technology at Albemarle County Public Schools.
EdTech for 21st Century Classroom Design
Successful active learning spaces include well-matched ed tech resources. The most common ways to leverage tech for constructivist learning include:
Front of Room Displays
We’ve come a long way since the humble blackboard. Today’s educators need a powerful, multi-tasking classroom display. They want to easily display online content, their students to actively interact with content, and the ability to annotate on top of any content, from any source. When they can record the content, annotations, and surrounding audio, they can share digital content files which is a must-have for flipped lessons, test review and keeping absent students up-to-date.
ViewSonic offers a range of options to fit any budget. Products include interactive flat panels, interactive projectors, and retrofit interactive kits. ViewSonic ViewBoard IFPs are designed to support education with best-in-class Google Classroom integration features and more.
Interactive Software & Content Sharing
Add interactive software to amp up the capabilities of existing flat panel displays. ViewSonic® ViewBoard® for Education delivers robust interactive features that bring lessons to life. The powerful software supports direct file saving to Google Drive and encourages active engagement. Wireless content sharing makes it fast, easy and efficient for students to display content. The most robust solutions work with any personal or school-issued device.
Huddle Spaces/Learning Labs
Call them what you will, these tech-laden spaces foster exactly what 21st-century educators seek: active, constructivist learning. Huddle spaces typically feature an interactive or smart display equipped with content sharing capabilities that allow students to easily display material from their smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
In a Nutshell
Significant research and educator experience confirm that the traditionally-designed classroom lacks what’s needed to prepare engaged 21st-century citizens. Instructors and administrators are working to apply this knowledge to new classroom design practices. These future-forward classroom layouts leverage flexible furnishings and collaborative technology to create spaces that promote active engagement and meaningful learning. ViewSonic offers a wide range of technologies that bring greater interactivity and collaboration to any classroom’s front of room display, huddle stations, desktops, learning labs, and more.