Moving away from one-size-fits-all learning, technology & spaces

What does the future of learning look like?

In the minds of many, it looks high tech and new—a complex array of technology and apps waiting to be woven into traditional curricula and classrooms.

Others believe the future of learning should more closely mimic the ways people learned long ago—more collaboration, more Socratic dialogue, and more opportunities for hands-on discovery.

At izzy+, we think the key is balancing the two—utilizing time-tested person-to-person learning approaches, along with the best advances technology has to offer.

Brandon Reame, izzy+’s Market Development Strategist and education research guru, says schools and colleges just need to ensure that two critical components exist: a focus on people, and plenty of flexibility inherent in the learning spaces.

“The important thing is that learning needs to move away from a one-size-fits-all model,” says Reame. “The most effective learning happens when the students, along with their lives and circumstances, are taken into account. Sure, there are lots of trends in education, but if you just apply them across the board you’re not going to get great results. At the end of the day, it has to be about the students and their engagement. How do you leverage technology, pedagogy, and the learning environment to create a more engaging learning experience?”

Over the past few generations, a move toward one-size-fits-all education has gradually become a system that some compare to a factory, as a recent Fast Company article, “Replacing The Classroom-As-Factory With Collaborative Learning,” suggests.

Reame says technology provides a variety of tools to help move teaching and learning away from a factory model. Technology, after all, allows people to learn anywhere at any time, at their own pace and in their own way, accessing more information and connecting with more people than ever. The challenge, however, is to make sure these new approaches are applied in meaningful ways and in tech-friendly, flexible learning spaces.

“Technology is more mobile than ever, and students are more tech-savvy than ever,” Ream says. “Those changes generate a greater need for new, inspiring learning spaces that offer lots of flexibility. There needs to be a mix of formal and informal learning spaces, with opportunities for small groups to gather, professors to guide discussions, and people to relax and catch up on reading and thinking on their own. Integrating technology isn’t just about having places to plug in. It’s about how people learn and interact.”

Because learning, at the end of the day, is about people, just like izzy+ has always been about people first, not furniture. That’s why we think this sentiment from the post “Are Kids Really Motivated By Technology?” is a great one for designers, teachers, parents and everyone to keep in mind as students across the country head back to school:

…finding ways to motivate students in our classrooms shouldn’t start with conversations about technology. Instead, it should start with conversations about our kids. What are they deeply moved by? What are they most interested in? What would surprise them? Challenge them? Leave them wondering? Once you have the answers to these questions — only after you have the answers to these questions — are you ready to make choices about the kinds of digital tools that are worth embracing.

The Dewey Connection Cart and 6-Top Table help instructors integrate technology into the classroom while ensuring students are able to easily converse and collaborate.

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Several Dewey 6-Top Tables can be pushed together for flexible, collaborative set ups. Dewey Connection Carts and Lecterns help instructors integrate technology.

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Comfortable third spaces, like this one featuring Harter Forum lounge seating, are critical in learning environments because they accommodate both informal gatherings and solo study time.
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From house building to music recording: How active learning is shaping the classroom

Most students in traditional classrooms have no problem identifying the difference between “learning” and “doing,” or “teacher” and “student.”

But on Habitat for Humanity work sites, those lines are blurred. Volunteers don’t learn a skill and then do it, they learn as they do it. Similarly, someone who is a “learner” in the morning might be a “teacher” after lunch.

“Every day there’s all kinds of teaching and learning going on at our work sites,” says Chris Hall, Director of Construction Operations at Habitat for Humanity Kent County, in West Michigan. “Every site is staffed by a professional builder with all the skills, but it’s really an organic learning process. Sometimes you’re the teacher, sometimes you’re the student.

When People and Disciplines Collaborate, More Learning Happens

The teaching and learning takes on a slightly more formal bent through the Habitat chapter’s collaborations with local schools. Students who take the “New Construction” course at Grand Rapids Community College apply their knowledge about sustainable building to Habitat homes; a Grand Rapids Public School magnet called the Academy of Design and Construction also extends its classrooms to Habitat building sites (pictured above).

“These days, with green building practices, you have to see the home as a living, breathing organism,” says Hall. “Everything is interconnected—it’s not just about physics, or just about geography or math. When the students work on these projects they can see how everything ties together.”

And at the end of the day, they can also point to what their knowledge helped them make.

“There’s something special that happens on a Habitat site, with everyone learning and working together,” Hall says.

Engaging Students with Hands-on Learning

This level of engagement and concrete accomplishment are also at the heart of a new Youth Recording Arts Academy—a joint project of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center and the Mackinaw Harvest professional recording studio. The intense, 12-week program focuses on hands-on work and experimentation in the recording studio, as well as developing “soft skills” like reliability and teamwork.

Laurie Cirivello of the Community Media Center has witnessed the benefits of active learning, both in the at-risk teens at the Academy, and as a parent to two non-traditional learners.

“Hands-on learning is so important—at the end of the day to be able to point to something and say, ‘I did this.’ My kids thrived on that,” Cirivello says. “With these kids, if we just keep saying, ‘Stay in school, stay in school’ with only the promise of ‘Someday you’ll get to do something that will rock your world,’ it isn’t going to work. They need to be engaged now.”

How the Shift Toward Active, Social Learning is Impacting Classrooms

Allison Roon, an interior designer, adjunct professor and long-time izzy+ consultant, says there’s an entire field of study backing up why learning is more effective when it’s more active. Roon, who has a Master’s degree in Adult and Higher Education, says “active learning” is all about students creating meaning through experiences and reflection (she cites scholar and professional consultant L. Dee Fink).

“Adult students, in particular, need to feel a personal connection to the learning that is happening for it to be meaningful,” Roon says. “And we’re not only moving away from teacher-centered education, but today’s student-centered models are also being joined by more informal, social, collaborative styles of learning outside classrooms.”

Not surprisingly, all of these shifts in teaching and learning ultimately impact built learning environments—whether you’re looking at more flexible and collaborative ways to design classrooms or you’re creating cafes and lounges that encourage informal learning and conversation. Roon says universities across the country are starting to minimize their number of traditional classroom spaces to allow for greater informal learning spaces. Some schools in Europe have even hit a 60 to 40 ratio of formal to informal spaces.

“The future of learning involves figuring out how to turn all of these experiences into meaningful learning,” says Roon. “izzy+ focuses a lot of time and thought on this—not just in classrooms, but also when it comes to creating informal, inspiring places that encourage people to come together to share ideas, be creative and learn.”

For more on our learning products and research, be sure to check out the Learning section of our website.

Students learn and share in an izzy+-designed “third space” at the Borough of Manhattan Community College

Students at Atlanta Technical College collaborate around Dewey tables by izzy+