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Five Drivers Influencing the Future of Learning

Image © Gensler

It used to be that learning was relegated to the classroom. But now, learning happens everywhere. The future of education is learner-centered, tied to a world that is under constant change. The path of the learner has evolved: education is now learner-centered and multiple pathways to success are the norm. At the same time, the role of the educator has also changed from purveyor of knowledge to facilitator, mentor, and enabler of experience. These changes have broad implications for the learning environment.

Through our Dialogues with Gensler panel and roundtable series, our global research, and experience designing environments on campus and in the workplace, we have developed a list of the top five drivers that are influencing the future of learning.

  1. The Ecosystem: The ecosystem is community, city, and knowledge

    As education shifts to a learner-centric model, equal importance needs to be placed on a variety of learning spaces beyond the walls of traditional education spaces. The relationship between education and industry can strengthen community and learning engagement by helping students grow their relationship with the community, acknowledging that school looks different than real life for a reason. We are no longer solely learning from the teacher, but co-learning from each other through a diversity of peers. The “educator” learns along with the “students.”

  2. Flexibility: Find ways for educational process to exceed the pace of change

    The pace of change outside of the institutional learning environment has been a constant challenge to effective education for some time, presenting both practical and philosophical dilemmas. The speed of curriculum change and relevancy remains significantly slow in comparison to social and technological advances. The traditional education model demands an updated, more nimble feedback loop; one that alleviates the historic model of pigeon holing students into a specific degree track, and instead allows more flexibility for them to explore and adapt their education by rapid experimentation with minimal financial risk.

    Bolstered by a diverse ecosystem of learning, rapid experimenting can follow a flexible, yet thoughtful cycle to promote a process of acquiring knowledge, applying, breaking, remixing, unlearning, and relearning with modification. This cycle safely pushes learners toward the value of risk and failure, celebrating failure as learning and knowledge gain.

  3. Driving students to be active learners

    Students should not be passive in shaping what success looks like. In terms of success, education has to adapt to become personal, allowing the pursuit of meaning and purpose to be more important than financial gain. This involves questioning whether institutions should define success for students, or whether students should define success. When success is defined by the institution there is potential for pushing students’ limits and to raising their own expectations. However, in that quest, institutions must make several important considerations. First, they must recognize, and be open to the reality that their internal communities can, and should, be involved in defining it. Second, they must meet their students where they are instead of imposing their “rules” on this new generation. Third, only the learner can define what curiosity is. Finally, the ability to find information is critical to success.

    This process can be achieved by giving students agency. Institutions must get comfortable with being uncomfortable, creating an environment where students always feel safe, built upon simple fundamentals of respect and dignity. Success and outcomes are measured more practically by transferring responsibility to all students as lifelong learners, allowing them to choose their own path; however, this remains difficult today, because few institutions take the risk or recognize the value of failure.

  4. Image © Gensler

  5. Technology: The great unifier and divider

    Today’s technology ecosystem provides unprecedented access to information that extends beyond the physical. Freedom to learn and explore interests allows learners to follow their own path. With technology so prevalent in our lives, the line is blurred between learning and consumption of knowledge. Imparting an understanding of how to use information in a productive way is critical in preparing students for a future of lifelong learning in an era of unlimited information.

    We cannot dismiss the strong dichotomy that exists between understanding how to equip learners who don’t have the same access to technology, and how to teach students who are already learning on their own in a different way, utilizing all that technology offers.

  6. Success: Credentials vs experience

    While technology is a valuable tool for learning and potentially even for assisting in more agile change management, it has thus far been unable to supplement the emotional intelligence and life skills that are learned by doing, experiencing, and engaging with others. The experiential value offered by a typical bachelor’s degree is not captured in the gig economy; yet emotional intelligence and life skills need to be measured to help close the gap between educators and the workforce. The staunch reality is that most of the jobs students will be working at in 20 years have not yet been created.

What’s next?

We must reshape our environment based on the new ways of learning, and continue to reevaluate our context in a changing world. This spring, Gensler Chicago, along with other Gensler offices across the world, held roundtable discussions focused on identifying the forces driving the future of education. Representing the overlap between education and industry, our diverse group of participants helped identify drivers of change while raising new questions that we look forward to continue discussing in Future events within our Dialogues with Gensler series. Through our upcoming Dialogues with Gensler series, we will continue to explore the ways that lifelong learners and future generations will share knowledge. Read more about our Education practice area on gensler.com.

Brian Watson is a senior associate in Gensler’s Chicago office. Often found behind a roll of trace paper, Brian loves tackling tough design challenges and has worked across the world in every phase of the architecture and construction process. His role in leading the North Central Region Education Practice Area is driven by the desire to challenge the status quo and to positively impact the spaces and environments that are central to helping educate our next generation of students, and those who never stop learning. Contact him at brian_watson@gensler.com.
Sarah Jones has a range of experience working on project teams, both for the client and as a client. She is a comprehensive designer with one foot in research and the other in practice, using design to create adaptable, resilient solutions for clients today and tomorrow. Contact her at sarah_jones@gensler.com..
Michael Schur is a licensed architect with over 10 years of design experience on complex projects across the globe. Driven by the belief that architecture and the built environment have the power to transform human experience and success, his work focuses on identifying impactful ideas and bringing them to life. A leader in Gensler’s Education practice area, Michael leads clients and institutions through visioning and programming workshops to find the big ideas, and works to ensure those ideas are implemented and carried out throughout the design and construction process. Contact him at michael_schur@gensler.com..