Learning Plan Before Facilities Plan

Change in teaching and learning is not an option — it is inevitable. The tremendous changes in the culture that surrounds and impacts education have created both crisis and opportunity.

In this context, it is essential to plan ever more systematically regarding the essential long-term features of the desired learning experience, and the flexibility to make shorter-term changes as needed before moving to design of learning environments — whether new or major renovations. The planning must authentically engage all those concerned — students, parents, community representatives, and school staff — if learning needs are to be met and capital and operating resources are to be readily forthcoming through the long term.

Purpose of Learning Plan

Ideally, the product of the planning process should be a“learning plan” that is detailed in regard to the features of the desired learning experience and the culture of the educational organization that it will need to support. The learning plan must represent consensus decision making and explicit ownership by those who will make the educational organization function effectively. It can then provide clear, pedagogically-sound, and politically-viable guidance for design of the learning environment (facility plan). This planning process holds that development of the learning plan should be extensive, future-oriented, and go before and be linked to the development of the facility plan (see Figure 1). Initially, greater intensity of effort is given to the learning plan and later to the facility plan, but both have some level of activity and a great deal of coordination all the way through the process.

Elements of Learning Plan

The elements or dimensions that must be addressed in a comprehensive learning plan include the following, executed in a particular order, and referred to as“designing down” and “checking up.”

Learning Context — specifically recognizes and reinforces the need to tailor the learning plan to its unique situation — focus is on unique assets, challenges, opportunities, and aspirations.

Learning Audience — refers to those are to be served and their needs –—those served may reach well beyond students.

Learning Signature — focuses on what is to be special and unique about the learning experience and give coherence, consistency, and spirit to learning.

Learning Expectations — addresses what is promised in terms of learning results or outcomes in exchange for investments of time and resources.

Learning Process — focuses on how the learning expectations will be addressed by strategically linking assessment, curriculum, and instruction.

Learning Organization — addresses how the time schedule, learners, staff, subjects, decision-making, and learning settings will be organized in order to best support the learning process.

Learning Partnership — focuses on those who need to be involved in making the learning process and organization work to achieve the learning expectations and mutual benefits needed to sustain long term partnerships.

Learning Staff — identifies all those making a contribution to the learning experience (i.e., staff, students, parents, community, other partners), their contributions, and training required to be effective.

Learning Environment — includes decisions about technology, equipment, and facilities, including all of the learning settings used by learners.

Learning Accountability — addresses the ways in which progress on achieving the learning plan will be reported, and decisions made, regarding needed improvements.

Learning Celebration — addresses the need to align incentives and recognition of progress and success in moving toward accomplishing the learning plan.

Learning Finance — focuses broadly on costs and revenues for capital and operating a new or restructured learning environment.

The planning process should follow the specified sequence described above so as to get careful alignment (designing down and checking up) among the elements and to get “first questions first.” The idea is to ensure that the learning plan fits the needs of the local situation and proceeds in a logical order — from aims to actions; to supporting structure, processes, and environment; and finally, to needed resources. The planning process described above has emerged from research and best practices, as well as the experience of working with many schools and colleges across the United States and in other countries — see the following Website for several examples of completed learning plans: newdesigns.oregonstate.edu/Newpages/currentprojects.html.

George H. Copa, PhD, is Professor of Education and Director of New Designs for Learning in the College of Education at Oregon State Univeristy. He was selected as the 2006 Planner of the Year by the Council of Educational Facility Planners, International.

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