Flexible learning spaces are all around us. Students are meeting at their local coffee shops to study independently or in groups—taking advantage of the free wifi and somehow staying on task as other customers come and go. Employees at small startups and large corporations are meeting in flexible office spaces to pitch ideas, troubleshoot, and seal multimillion dollar deals. So, it only makes sense to incorporate flexible learning spaces into our schools as well.
Schools all over the world are being more intentional about how they design physical spaces and learning opportunities for their students. The ultimate goal is to provide learning environments that encourage creative, active, and hands-on learning experiences that will prepare students to be thinkers, collaborators, innovators, and problem-solvers now and in the future.
Here are five reasons that will inspire you to consider flexible learning spaces in your school:
1. Redefine Space
The influx of remodeling and renovation shows has inspired people to redefine how we see the spaces we inhabit, and our learning spaces should be no different. Our learning spaces should be aesthetically pleasing, well-planned, and equipped with all the materials and resources necessary for active learning to occur. These spaces do not require sliding walls and dedicated collaboration space to be defined as flexible learning spaces.
Learning Experience Designer Lynn Marenette uses the following characteristics to define an innovative learning space:
Flexible space that can be easily adjusted to meet support the learning activities:
– Allow for movement
– Allow for various groupings
– Allow for hands-on exploring, making, and building
– Allow for curriculum integration, including the arts
– Support social interaction and development
– Support cognitive skills and development
– Support the integration of technology
– Provide opportunities for students to learn through examples
2. Promote Collaboration
A flexible learning space is more than an open space with movable furniture. It is an environment that has been thoughtfully designed to promote collaboration on many levels. Students thrive in environments that are easily transformed and allow for movement as they interact, but we need to consider that the ability to collaborate is not innate and needs to be fostered and practiced often.
Collaborative activities require students to use interpersonal and social skills to communicate their ideas and problem-solve as they work. Think of the benefits of providing a space that is part of that collaborative process—a space that will foster decision-making, creativity, and communicating.
3. Encourage Flexible Time and Grouping
Sometimes we have to get creative when it comes to grouping and scheduling, especially when the very structures in which we work put limits on our time and space. But a flexible learning space is not a permanent space. It is fluid and evolves according to our needs.
The Singapore American School built flexible time and grouping into its middle school program. The teachers work closely to use the flexible time built into their block schedule to allow for students to meet for extra help, collaborate on group projects, and to have whole grade level presentations. Teachers also prepare for this flexible time by examining data from formative assessments to determine how students should be grouped and regrouped over time. This allows teachers to continually pinpoint and personalize instruction for each student.
4. Support Personalized Learning
Meeting students where they are and moving them forward at their own pace is paramount. Personalized learning sets students on the path to success, and flexible learning spaces provide the support they need along the journey. The concept of flexible learning applies and extends to how a school employs its staff, physical space, and resources to support personalization. When teachers have the opportunity to meet with colleagues to discuss student performance and share instructional strategies that can be implemented to design personalized learning plans for each student, everyone comes out a winner.
5. Provide Opportunities Outside of School
Online courses, dual enrollment, and community partnerships have changed the landscape of our learning environments as well. As personalized and competency-based learning programs continue to evolve and transform education, we have the opportunity to extend learning outside our classrooms for students ready for new or additional challenges.
Older students need flexibility in their academic schedules for a variety of reasons. Some students may choose to take online courses or dual enroll at a community college to get ahead or to make up for a poor or failing grade. The option to do this is right in line with the concepts of personalized learning and helps us ensure that all our students are college and career ready. Industry-based and community partnership programs are also on the rise. These programs are aligned with the school district’s curriculum and provide students with the opportunity to work one-on-one with industry experts to gain insight and knowledge about careers they may be considering.
Wouldn’t it be great to walk into a coffee shop one day and see a former student conducting a business meeting over a latte with the community partner he was paired with just a few years before?