Districts and schools are increasingly adopting active learning practices in order to address businesses’ demand for employees capable of creative and collaborative work. But one commonly overlooked factor in this transition is classroom design. However, research shows that the physical space that supports active learning is quite different from one designed for lecture-focused teaching.
To help educators, Dr. Christina Counts, the vice president of education at MiEN Company, and Dr. Kristen Brittingham, the chief learning officer for Modern Teacher, have co-authored a white paper titled “Active Learning Environments Support Student Engagement, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking.”
Active learning not only promotes student engagement and the development of critical thinking and collaboration but also creativity and communication – all of which are skills that employers are seeking. The paper focuses on research regarding the role of active learning environments in the development of these critical skills.
“Classrooms need to become active learning environments supported by technology integration,” said Brittingham. “So, the physical makeup of the classroom needs to change in order to support active learning environments. Unfortunately, most classrooms look the same as they did 20-30 years ago. We need changes in classroom design that mirror the new emphasis on collaboration in education and in today’s workplace.”
The white paper explores the benefits of “flexible furniture,” as opposed to traditional desks and stationary furniture, as a tool in designing active learning spaces. Flexible furniture constitutes work surfaces and seating that supports student choice of seating, location and comfort. It encourages classroom peer interaction, fostering collaboration and empowering students to become builders of knowledge.
“Active Learning Environments” cites research findings from Baylor University, the University of Utah, Seton Hall University and the University of Salford in the United Kingdom. It also includes a case study describing the effects of installing flexible furniture at the Charleston County School District in South Carolina.
“Research shows that active learning environments support the new, flexible way in which students need to work in order to practice future-ready career skills,” said Counts. “They can more easily move from collaboration to focused work to research to presentation as they master self-directed learning. But it’s important to remember that these new learning spaces need to be combined with new teaching methods, curriculum and personalization via technology. When that happens, educators can help students reach new levels of engagement and academic achievement.”