Aug 12, 2019

Modern Learning Spaces: What the Research Tells Us

By Liz Bowie

The classrooms that most of us grew up with are a thing of the past. Worksheets and one-size-fits-all instruction have given way to project-based learning, flexible seating, and individualized instruction. But, although the instruction methods have changed, many times the physical spaces that support learners have not.

Educators are faced with trying to rearrange classrooms that have bulky, heavy, and immobile furnishings that are, on average, 48 years old. A growing body of research indicates that reimagining our students’ learning spaces and incorporating modern, flexible furnishings can have far-reaching benefits, from improved health to better academic performance.

Below are four key takeaways from recent learning environment research:

1. Educators Teach Differently When the Classroom Environment Changes

According to research done by the Center for Educational Innovation at the University of Minnesota, classroom design can affect how instructors teach, even when they’re deliberately trying not to let it.

In the study, the teacher was asked to provide instruction using the exact same methods in both a traditional classroom and an active learning setting (a mobile, flexible, technology-rich classroom). His attempts to provide the same instruction failed, as he lectured more in the traditional classroom and promoted discussion more in the active learning setting. These findings indicate that the arrangement of the classroom furnishings alone can promote student-centered instruction. 

2. Active Learning Environments Impact Learning Outcomes

The Center for Educational Innovation’s research also looked at expected outcomes for students in traditional classrooms versus active learning classrooms. In one study, participants with lower ACT scores were placed in an active learning environment, with researchers predicting that their grades would be lower as well. Surprisingly, they performed just as well as their high-ACT-scoring peers who were taught in a traditional setting.

Another study compared participants who were taught in a large, theater-style classroom three days a week with those who met once a week in a smaller, active learning environment to work on problem-solving and watch recorded lectures. The latter set of students performed as well or better than their peers who met three times as much in the traditional setting, indicating the scope of the impact that working in active learning environments has on learning outcomes.

And, as educators in MDR’s “The Impact of Learning Spaces on Student Success” report noted, one of the biggest outcomes they saw from their learning space renovations was the positive effect it had on school culture and student engagement. This finding underscores the importance of creating high-impact learning spaces, as student engagement is the largest indicator of academic success. 

3. Active Learning Environments Promote Healthier Students and Boost Academics

According to Ergonomist Josh Kerst, kids spend 50–70% of their time sitting down (often in hard plastic chairs) in traditional classrooms. You’ve probably heard the warning “sitting is the new smoking,” but what exactly does that mean? Kerst notes that over the past 200 years, children’s calorie intake has gone up, while their lifestyles have become more sedentary. This puts them at increased risk for obesity and related diseases. For instance, in 1960 the risk of a child developing diabetes in his lifetime was only 1 in 4,000 — by 2016, the risk rose dramatically to 1 in 4!

Flexible room layouts that provide a variety of seating options, including stools that allow students to move and rock and tables set at standing height, encourage students to get up and move throughout the day and find seating arrangements that help them do their best work. Not only does this type of layout promote healthy habits, the fidgeting and movement that active seating encourages actually help students focus better, especially students with ADHD.

Research published in the American Journal of Public Health and from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation lists the benefits of active learning spaces for children, including the following:
  Increased calorie burn rate
  Increased student engagement
  Increased test scores
  Better classroom management
The studies also found the following:
  Students were 20% more likely to earn an A in math or English when they had the chance to be physically active.
  Students’ standardized test scores jumped 6% in just three years after physical activity was incorporated into their school day.
  Starting the school day for elementary students with 10–20 minutes of teacher-led physical activity led to a 57% drop in discipline referrals.
  With this same 10–20 minutes of physical activity at the beginning of each school day, school nurse visits declined 67%.
  Children lowered their insulin levels by 33% when they broke up three hours of sedentary time with short, moderate-intensity walking.
4. Educator Voices Are an Important Consideration in the Design Process

In their report “The Impact of Learning Spaces on Student Success,” MDR details their survey that included 1,600 K–12 educators. The results are clear: Educators who are in the classroom day in and day out believe their learning environments influence student learning, and with the desire to meet all students’ needs, flexibility is a key consideration.

       94% of survey respondents said they believed the physical space had a high to moderate impact on learning.
       The addition of flexible furniture was one of the top changes teachers desired for their classrooms.
       Respondents wanted teaching styles and goals to influence changes to their learning environments.
       One of the most important goals teachers mentioned was being able to accommodate different learning styles by increasing opportunities for physical movement while learning, providing collaborative and solitary areas for students, and having more resources for visual learners.

The very act of redesigning your learning environment won’t guarantee its effectiveness — educator voices, flexible furnishings, and activity-permissive classrooms all play an important role. Every school and every classroom are unique — but with modern pedagogy paired with intentionally chosen furnishings, they can be designed to support students now and into the future.  

Liz Bowie is the content manager at Demco Inc., a leading provider of interior design services and solutions for schools and libraries for 114 years. Demco specializes in creating customized, high-impact educational spaces. For more information, visit

Education for The Innovation Era

By Tony Wagner

Much of the current education debates focus on issues of inequity, accountability, funding, and improving access to higher education for more students. While these are all important issues, what is missing is a discussion of the purpose of education in the 21st century. To consider this question, we need to understand fundamental changes that have taken place in our economy.

For the first half of the 20th century, when most people earned their living on farms and in factories, physical strength and manual dexterity were competitive advantages. Then came what Peter Drucker in 1959 termed "The Knowledge Economy." In this new era, brains mattered more than brawn because the ability to access and analyze information became a key driver of economic growth. The more you knew and the more facile you were with your knowledge, the greater the competitive advantage.

As a result, for the past 50 years our education systems have focused on ensuring that students acquire more and more education. First it was completion of high school, and now the emphasis is on getting more students to complete post-secondary education. The nature of this education has changed very little, however. From the beginning of high school and continuing through college, students spend the majority of their time memorizing massive amounts of information. And they are graded on how much of that information they have retained.

But here's the problem. We no longer live in a knowledge economy. The world no longer cares how much you know because Google knows everything. There is no longer competitive advantage in knowing more than the person next to you because what the world cares most about is not what you know, but what you can do with what you know. One’s competitive advantage today comes from the ability to bring new possibilities to life or to solve problems creatively — in other words, to innovate. Of course, you need knowledge to accomplish these things. It is necessary, but not sufficient. In the innovation era, knowledge still matters, but skills matter more, and motivation and dispositions matter most.

Our education systems, from elementary schools through graduate schools, have not yet begun to adapt to this new reality. At every level and in every course, the primary focus is on content knowledge acquisition. Rarely do students have opportunities to apply their knowledge, to hone their skills, to pursue their own interests. As human beings, we are born curious, creative, imaginative. The average five-year-old asks 100 questions a day, and most kindergartners think of themselves as artists. But by the time most kids reach the age of 12 or so, they are far more preoccupied with getting the right answers on tests than they are on continuing to ask their own questions. And fewer and fewer think of themselves as creative.

The price our students pay for this kind of education is very high and rarely discussed. We are raising generations of students who are obsessed with getting good grades and scoring well on tests — doing everything they think they need to do to get into a name brand college so they can have a name brand job and live happily ever after. These kids are terrified of making a single mistake, getting less than an A. And in the desperate pursuit of trying to market themselves and be the perfect kid for the right college, they lose sight of who they really are, what their questions are, what they're curious about.
Meanwhile, the kids who don't compete because they'd rather work with their hands or don't think they're smart enough feel like losers. Twenty percent of our students don’t complete high school. An additional thirty percent graduate from high school and go on to minimum wage jobs. Of the approximately seventy percent of the high school graduates who enroll in college, nearly half drop out before they complete any degree, often having acquired enormous debt along the way. Lacking skills or preparation for a trade, most of them can only manage to find minimum-wage jobs.
But what about "the winners," the kids who manage to graduate from a four-year college or university and then head off into the labor market? Having attended schools where acquiring knowledge mattered most, how well are they faring in the innovation era? A growing body of evidence suggests that, in fact, the majority of our college graduates are stunningly ill prepared for the jobs of the present — and even less so for the jobs of the future, when computers and A.I. will have taken over virtually all routine work.
A couple of examples should suffice to tell the story. Back in the early days of Google, when everyone still thought we had a knowledge economy,
the fledgling company sought to hire the smartest kids in the world and so only hired kids with Ivy League degrees and only interviewed those who had the highest test scores and GPAs. But then along came Laszlo Bock. As senior VP of people operations at Google, he analyzed all of the data related to hiring and job performance and discovered that the indices they had been using like GPAs and test scores were "worthless." Today, Google no longer asks for your test scores or college transcript. They don't care whether or not you went to college, and 15% of their new hires in certain departments do not have a college degree. What Google cares about today is not what you know, but what you can do with what you know, and they now use multiple structured interviews to make hiring decisions.
When I learned this, I thought that perhaps Google was an anomaly. But then I was invited to speak by Deloitte to business leaders in Ho Chi Minh City several years ago. Prior to my presentation, I was invited to lunch by the CEO. She knew of my affiliation at the time with Harvard and had a bit of fun with it, telling me, "You know, we used to hire the best students from the best universities, but it turned out that they did not work out so well." She smiled and then continued, "Now, we put prospective new hires through a summer-long boot camp to see how they solve problems collaboratively, and then we decide whether or not to offer them a job."
For college graduates who do not know how to solve problems collaboratively and who lack other essential skills required to succeed in the innovation era, it is hardly the "full employment economy" that everyone touts these days. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, forty-three percent of college graduates ages 25 to 29 are either unemployed or underemployed. What does underemployed mean? They are baristas or bartenders — earning an average salary of about $33,000 — $10,000 less than jobs that actually require a BA might pay. Most have college debt amounting to an average of $35,000 or more. Many are living at home and likely to default on those debts.
The mantra of policymakers for the last decade has been to ensure that all kids graduate from high school "college ready." The assumption is that the more education a student acquires, the better positioned they are to succeed. But the reality is that students today need a different kind of education, not necessarily more education.
The essential education challenge today is to reimagine learning and teaching for the innovation era. We need to work together to understand what we must do in order to graduate all students “innovation ready” — ready for the challenges of work, learning, and citizenship in the 21st century.

Tony Wagner current serves as a Senior Research Fellow at The Learning Policy Institute. Previously, Tony held a variety of positions as Harvard University for twenty years and was a high school English teacher for twelve years. 

This article is copyrighted, no unauthorized use is permitted.

Tony Wagner will present “Creating Innovators for the Future of Learning” on Wednesday, October 23 at the Opening Plenary of EDspaces in Milwaukee, WI.

Aug 6, 2019

Future Ready Learning Space by NorvaNivel

An Interview withh Jolene Levin, Director and Space Futurist at NorvaNivel

Classroom Name: Future Ready Learning Space by NorvaNivel
Design Team: Jolene Levin, Director and Space Futurist; Franco Modolo, Architect
Vendor partners: ELB Education, NorvaNivel, Tandus Centiva, a Tarkett Company

What was your concept in designing this classroom?
NorvaNivel is committed to creating agile and inclusive learning spaces that will equip learners for the skills needed for the future workforce. The way that we achieve this is through a varied range of learning zones that students and educators can quickly reconfigure to facilitate the different learning activities required for future-forward pedagogies. Additionally, with a focus on variety, purpose, textures, color, weight, and movement, we design and manufacture furniture that help learners feel safe and comfortable, increasing learning engagement.

The classroom has distinct spaces to gather, collaborate, present, create, and reflect.  From Socratic circles to hands-on STEAM activities and student presentations to spaces for introspective learning, we have considered the primary needs of any future-ready learning space.

What role does technology play in the space?
Any future-ready space must be quickly adaptable for purposeful technology use. Our environment facilitates the use of mobile devices, robotics, and other hands-on technology. For EDspaces, our primary technology integration is the use of interactive Prowise screens from ELB Solutions that support presentation as well as group collaboration. The large touchscreens are all equipped with a mobile lift system, which is ideal for our reconfigurable space, allowing presenters to share and present within any zone. The Prowise screen can also be used as a surface for small groups to collaborate around.

How does the design and technology plan encourage attendee interaction?
The technology has been chosen because of its flexibility and responsiveness to the requirements of the space and session content. We have two connected 80” screens to allow for presenters to effectively share content to attendees throughout the large space. We have an additional multi-touchpoint 65” screen for in-depth sessions, additional supporting content, or for collaborative activities. 

How does the choice of furniture impact the space?
NorvaNivel designs with intent and has only ever designed furniture for the education industry. Each of our pieces is designed to address a specific need for education and each piece considers increased engagement in all types of learners. For example, we have integrated texture through the incorporation of the GRASSYOTT™ Ottomans. We have used almost entirely whiteboard surfaces for our tables, such as our SUNSHINEONACLOUDIEDAY™ Foldable Table, which are ideal for visual learners, note-taking and group collaboration. Our primary considerations were the responsiveness of the space. This requires lightweight products like our ROCKER OTT™ Seating and select pieces on casters. Lightweight, movable pieces are essential to being able to flip the space for different learning activities. We also have a zone dedicated to hands-on learning with our STEAMSPACE™ range of furniture. Durable, functional, and full of storage, this furniture is designed specifically for a hands-on STEAM curriculum.

What do the flooring choices say about your classroom?
We are a big proponent of carpeted spaces. Color and texture are a huge consideration for any learning space and for the impact on learners. For this classroom, we have partnered with Tarkett, a Tandus Centiva company, to create distinct zones with the carpet. The colors and pattern create a directional feed in the space, orientating attendees.

How will this space work for presenters?
The design of the space and furniture allows for presenters to change the space according to their needs. Whether they are STEAM advocates, want to facilitate collaborative activities, or simply share information with the group, the space can achieve all of this. We want to share with and show the market how agile spaces can facilitate the future of education.

What do you see as the largest benefit of being chosen as a design team winner?
One of the biggest disconnects at education conferences is space and content. Thought leaders speaking about future-forward educational practices, trends, and so on can’t be limited to a stand and deliver environment. We don’t expect K-12 learners to learn this way so we can’t expect adult learners to learn this way either. We have created an authentic, purposeful space to help presenters from a range of background and areas of expertise to present from.