Spotlight on Designing for Next-Generation Learning

Getting students ready for college and ready for careers is becoming ever more important in all levels of K12 education. The ideas of collaboration, and hands-on learning, also known as “next-generation learning is also impacting how schools are designed. Steven Herr, AIA, is director of Design for Fanning Howey, an architecture and engineering firm specializing in learning environments, and is quite familiar with some of the ideas and challenges presented by next-generation learning. School Planning & Management asked Stephen a few questions on the subject.

Q: What are some ways architects and Schools can design that promote collaboration and career-readiness?

A: Our culture recognizes that technical, social and collaborative skills are the keys to success, no matter what path a student may choose: college, vocational or industrial and building trades. To that end, education design has been trending toward flexible environments that encourage active learning, project based curricula and collaborative approaches. Learning and collaboration occur anywhere, whether it is one to one or in a larger communal setting. The most effective design solutions create an intentional blend of learning space sizes and a balance of focused concentration space and more lively social spaces. The future career paths of students will require them to adapt to multiple working environments, including those that are not yet known. Therefore, the number one imperative for architects and school designers is to create a planning framework and building infrastructure that will allow reconfiguration and re-imagining throughout the life of the school.

Q: How can students benefit most from this type of design?

A:  Studies indicate that the most successful student is one who has a degree of control and direction of their educational journey and is also a part of a safe, affirming community. Learning environments should offer a variety of spaces while still providing for visual control by educators.  Windows, glass overhead doors and moveable walls all provide the transparency needed to achieve this goal. We want students to be engaged in learning and have ownership of their own education, while still providing a safe and nurturing environment.

Q: Are the lines being blurred between high school and college classroom design in terms of designing for collaboration, etc.?

A: There has been a notable shift toward career pathways, and K-12 school designers are taking cues from successful built environments in higher education, high-tech industries and even Silicon Valley. The best design captures the vibrancy and the freedom offered by these inspirational spaces, while translating concepts in a way that meets students where they are: cognitively, socially and emotionally. Because after all, we are still designing for students, not adults.

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