Designing an effective learning environment: Part 2

In part 1, we talked about the spatial factors of the learning environment – Comfort, Safety, Noise, Temperature, Air quality, Lighting, Colour, Aesthetics, and Greenery. In this post, we’ll start by looking at two other types of factors – Temporality, and Connectivity.

Temporality (Flexibility of space)

The reason these factors are called temporal, is in recognition that classroom usage changes across time, both in the short- and long-term. Within a single day, a physical space may be used by different teachers, for different students, and instructing on different subject matters. Within a single class, a lesson plan may call for different styles of teaching, from teacher-focused, to peer-focused, and activity focused instruction. And from term to term, year to year, educational methods and pedagogies can change, incorporating a greater range of methods, tools, and digital materials.

The OECD report also recognises that flexibility is not dependent solely on the physical aspects of the classroom space, but is impacted by school policies such as semester schedules, timetables, and examinations. This is particularly important for a tutoring centre that must adjust to the school systems of each individual student.

Our goal at Academia is to provide a strong, well-researched and developed curriculum, but also to allow teachers sufficient flexibility to provide an extent of differentiated instruction, in which lessons can be tailored to meet the varying needs and abilities of students through various methods and activities. We thus focused on 3 factors – the types of furnishings, the mobility of furnishings, and the balance of empty space.

In a teacher-focused scenario, the obvious furnishings for the students would be their chair and writing space. For the teacher, it would depend on their teaching needs – are they static at a whiteboard? Or are they more dynamic – demonstrating a concept, or moving around the class? If the class then shifts to an activity focus or a peer focus, then the teacher’s furnishings become less important as compared to the student workspaces, which need to be comfortably sized for the activity – or collaborative if students are required to work on a shared item or discussion.

Building a more flexible classroom can start with something as simple as movable student chairs and optimally sized desks that allow teachers and students to create their own workspaces. If a lesson requires that each student have a quiet space for a day, there should have an option for letting the students sit apart. Flexibility can also be created between classrooms, by having different classrooms that suit slightly different purposes.

Connectivity (Integration of technology)

Although the advent of digital technology has previously been erroneously hailed as a panacea for educational challenges, in practice many solutions have fallen short, with unfulfilled promises and what some writers have termed “digital disappointment”. Nevertheless, the CoVID-19 pandemic has brought significant digital changes to many educational institutions out of sheer necessity. While many of these changes have been focused on home-based learning, it will be interesting to see how some of these technologies will translate to an in-person classroom setting.

At Academia, we believe that meaningful changes in ICT usage can be categorised into two groups – student-centric, and teacher-centric. There has been a great deal of focus on student-centric aspects, which can bring about improvements in differentiated learning by providing students with a greater extent of control, and allowing them a greater extent of self-regulated learning. The trade-off, of course, is a loss of control from the teacher’s perspective – and self-regulated learning can easily become unregulated languishing.

Instead, perhaps a better framework would be to have supervised student-centric ICT usage, provide additional unsupervised learning for motivated learners, and also focus on teacher-centric ICT tools that allow teachers to more efficiently and effectively demonstrate and communicate concepts. The physical in-class aspect of this, of course, is ensuring that the tools function well in a classroom set-up, from the plug-and-play connection, to the way that displayed material overlaps with a whiteboard set-up.

A case study: does creating an effective learning environment really require all the factors above?

There are different ways in which different organisations have implemented effective learning environments. These implementations generally start from the learning pedagogy and educational style, and seek to enhance these aspects through the classroom setting.

As a case study, we can look at a well-known method of education, the Montessori method. It is a particularly convenient case study, because the Montessori community does produce guidelines on classroom design. Some broad design principles include that the environment should demonstrate certain characteristics:

  • An arrangement that facilitates movement and activity
  • Beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment
  • Construction in proportion to the child and their needs
  • A minimal set of educational materials
  • A sense of order
  • A sense of nature

Immediately obvious is that not all factors need to be included and considered when creating an effective learning environment. Clearly, what is focused on here is certain spatial factors such as comfort, safety, colour, aesthetic, and greenery – as well as temporal factors such as flexibility, specialisation, and space. A Montessori-based classroom design can encourage a kid to learn at their own pace. The design is also focused on make students feel comfortable whilst reducing the number of potential distractions by being well-organised, neat, and predictable.

A sneak peek at our new classrooms

Our new classrooms at 11 Sin Ming Road, #B1-30 Thomson V Two will be opening in time for Term 2. Alongside our stellar teachers and impeccable curriculum, expect a newfound sense of home with a natural lighting and a woody aesthetic that aims to bring to students a sense of comfort and focus. We will also be opening new weekday and weekend slots, so stay tuned!

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