Lessons from Steelcase Education on Active Learning Environments

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At CSArch, we make it a priority to understand new trends and collaborate with educators to design spaces that support their initiatives. With this in mind, I attended The Association for Learning Environment’s recent event, “Researching Learning Environments within Steelcase”. The event brought together architects, interior designers, and educators from the Northeast to connect and learn from experts at Steelcase Education, a company that focuses on helping schools, colleges and universities create active learning environments to meet the evolving needs of students and educators.

I visited the Steelcase Showroom and heard national architect and design leader, Steve Slifka, speak about active learning inside the classroom, current issues facing classroom layout, and solutions for creating active learning ecosystems. The program, supported by Steelcase Education Insights + Applications Guide, delivered a lot of valuable information. Here are some key takeaways that we’ll be implementing in discussions with our education clients.

Issues Facing Traditional Classrooms that Need To Be Addressed and Resolved

  • Traditional classroom layouts support a lecture-style, stand-and-deliver, sit-and-listen teaching style. Outdated and ineffective for modern needs and 21st century learning, this type of classroom layout acts as a barrier by valuing a one-way flow of information not conducive to collaboration and interaction.
  • Static furniture prevents movement that’s essential to active learning.
  • Modern educational environments are often shared by multiple user types while school is in session and after school hours. Spaces are increasingly used for multiple curricula. One size-fits-all classrooms neglect the modern day needs of educators and students.

Furniture Types and Space Configuration Solutions for 21st Century Learning

“As learning becomes more interactive, classrooms must support multiple types of collaboration, including informative, evaluative, and generative, as well as peer-to-peer learning and many other emerging models.” Steelcase Active Learning Spaces

  • Soft seating is necessary to provide comfort and to support longer periods of study or for completing tasks on mobile devices.
  • Classrooms with a mix of different furniture solutions provide students the opportunity to select the solution that best suits their needs.
  • The seating and surfaces need to support varying levels of collaboration – both formal and casual.
  • By offering a variety of furniture options, movement is encouraged throughout a space, fueling brain activity.
  • The design of large student spaces should incorporate private/alone, public/alone, public/together, and private/together study needs.

Mobile and Adaptable Furniture Solutions for Evolving Teaching and Learning Modes

“When students can move about easily, they are more interactive, collaborative, comfortable, and engaged in class.” Steelcase Active Learning Spaces

  • Educational spaces need to be flexible and equipped with mobile furniture that can quickly transform and reconfigure a room to align with how students learn and how teachers teach.
  • Chairs on wheels allow for easy transition between different teaching modes
  • Seating that swivels enables students to remain engaged in multiple presentation points within the classroom. It also allows students to see each other at any point in the space.
  • Seating that gives students the ability to adjust the height of their seats supports user comfort

At CSArch, we’ve sat at the table with superintendents, college presidents, school board members, and corporate business leaders. As a supportive partner, we take the responsibility of remaining abreast of the evolving needs of students and instructors as technology, curriculum, and workplace demands change.

The information presented by Steelcase and The Association for Learning Environments are a small snapshot of many trends and changes that affect today’s education projects. For more topics, please read our recent posts on 21st Century Learning, Market Trends and Employer Needs, and Shared Facilities.

(Feature image source: Steelcase Education)