Education has been a valued part of life in all cultures for centuries, however it is only since the industrial revolution that the current concept of a school has emerged.
Charged with the need to introduce basic literacy and numeracy skills as preparation for working in the factories, educators of the day used the form and processes of factories as a model in which students are assigned to classrooms with a teacher and progressed through a ‘production line’ model of education.
Even the bell was a concept borrowed from factory life to signal the compulsory break times.
In our modern world we have seen an evolution in the design and operation of the factory model in our industrial and business sectors – and so too the physical design of schools is changing in ways that reflect our understandings of what supports effective teaching and learning.
In a world of ubiquitous, on-demand access to information, the needs of today’s learners are not catered for by the delivery format of our traditional system – and the design of standard classroom spaces often inhibits the introduction of the learner-centric approaches that recognise and develop individual strengths and talents.
The flexible modern learning environments being built today promote and support a range of learning activity, no longer confining students to a single desk and chair for everything they do. These learning environments support strengths-based teaching and can offer students and teachers flexibility, openness and access to resources, and can be configured to meet the changing requirements of the curriculum and cater more effectively for the different learning needs and styles of students.
These environments and, more importantly, the different approaches to teaching and learning they enable are reflective of the sorts of changes we have seen in everything from the workplace to our homes, where the emphasis on open, configurable spaces has become the norm because it both supports the desired behaviours of those who occupy the space and enables them to achieve their goals and meet their needs within them.
The move to flexible learning environments has been welcomed by many and received criticism from others. This is a natural response in times of change.
It is easy to consider the structure of classrooms with a single teacher as the base-line for effective education – largely because that is what we have all experienced. The truth is that this way of organising schools is no longer the most effective way of preparing our young people with the skills and dispositions they will require to be successful and contributing citizens in the future.
In addition to requiring a set of functional literacies, employers are increasingly identifying collaboration, problem solving, creativity and communication skills as things they look for in potential employees.
As we embrace these new environments we must recognise that they serve as the enablers of the sorts of teaching and learning approaches that will see the young people educated within them equipped with the skills and dispositions they will require to live and thrive into the future.