Image © Gensler
This post is the first in Reimagining Learning, a series that will look beyond the classroom in a quest to explore how innovative design can better support learning.
If you were tasked with reimagining learning, where would you start? As designers, we approach most projects by reimagining what could be—whether it’s a transformative leap, an impactful experience, or simply helping something work better. To reimagine learning is a tall order. Although we’ve conducted a number of studies over the last several years focused on the successes and shortfalls of spaces for learning, we’ve only scratched the surface of the broader conversation.
It’s a conversation that impacts nearly everyone: students, teachers, parents, communities, employers, government, industry, technology. The list is extensive and growing. After all, learning should be lifelong, and it has a way of touching all aspects of our everyday lives and, regardless of formal education level (if any), all stages of life. As we’ve explored the broader landscape of potential learning sources—we’ve looked at everything from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to Daniel Pink to Benedict Cary—we’ve noticed many parallels with our research and the way we think about learning vis-à-vis design.
New research on the brain and how learning occurs has resulted in a series of publications that are starting to change the conversation when it comes to teaching and learning. In How We Learn, Benedict Carey notes that the brain has not yet adapted from its foraging instincts to “fit” the current model of education. In How Learning Works, the authors describe learning as “a process that leads to change, which occurs as a result of experience and increases the potential for improved performance and future learning.” Learning is a process not a product. It is a process that involves a change in knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, or attitudes. It is something students do for themselves.
So how should the classroom evolve with this changing conversation and the emerging discoveries about the learning process? How can it recapture the essence of what drives us all to learn and engage with our environment?
And how do we sift through the vast landscape of voices out there clamoring to make their opinions heard? The voices around technology in the classroom, and the voices around student performance and assessment. The voices around the “right” way to design spaces for learning, and the voices that are making a lasting impact on our clients and the challenges they bring to us.
As a way to curate this information and frame the discussion, Gensler’s Education and Culture practice has assembled the book Reimagining Learning: Strategies for Engagement to capture the overlooked aspects of successful learning environments that inspire people to learn deeply, to connect learning to personal experience, and to become lifelong learners. There are innovative learning spaces everywhere. This book articulates exactly what makes them successful. It is comprised of three sections.
Image © GenslerSection 1
The first section addresses the different ways we learn, or six key behaviors that are critical to making the learning process successful: Acquire, Collaborate, Reflect, Experience, Master, and Convey. Together, these singular behaviors create a successful practice that engages students in better learning. This section explores how these behaviors work together to engage students in meaningful, strategic learning.
Image © GenslerSection 2
The second section identifies qualities of effective learning spaces. It explore three critical components of physical space that result in student engagement and work to create a connected network of learning. In our research, we found that the most successful learning environments are diverse, adaptable, and multimodal. The goal is to inspire student engagement and fuel the learning process.
Image © GenslerSection 3
The third section illustrates these design strategies for engagement across the spaces in which we live, work, and play. From K-12 schools to higher-ed campuses to corporate workplace to community centers, this section shows how tangible design methods can catalyze these connected learning qualities of effective spaces by supporting the diverse ways we learn.
In the coming months, designers across Gensler’s global education design practice will share stories of reimagining learning. Our first post features a story about planning for maker-spaces across disciplines and pedagogies, based on the widespread demand on campus for innovation and entrepreneurship. We hope that this series inspires you to look beyond the classroom to see the potential for learning and engagement in all places you encounter.
We encourage you to leave a comment below to join the conversation and tell us what this idea means in your own work and life. For additional information on Gensler’s approach to re-imagining learning environments through design, click here.
Meghan is a senior associate in Gensler's Chicago office. She has a broad range of experience across the country and overseas in every phase of the architecture and construction process, and she draws on this experience when thinking about new and inventive ways for buildings to broaden the lives of the end-users. Contact her at email@example.com.