Neuroscientists and Architects Working Together to Design the Future of Education
Let me start by saying I’m not a neuroscientist. But I do find their work fascinating and relevant to K-12 school design. I’ve often wondered how neuroscientists, architects, engineers and interior designers could join forces to positively impact the future of education. If we work as a team to understand how the brain works and how design impacts student behavior, we could really move the needle on student performance.
Readily available research confirms the least effective way for students to retain information - learn - is lecture; the best way for students to retain knowledge is by being engaged in an activity. Listening, viewing and doing all increase retention. But how have we applied this research? Why do we continue to resort back to our old ways of designing classrooms the same way they have been designed for 50 years – as lecture halls? And what additional research do we need to improve the ranks of our nation’s education system?
As we explore the future of educational environments, we must be able to connect what brain research tells us about human behavior to our designs. In my personal experience of designing K-12 facilities, I have found three primary reasons why we are not moving forward as quickly as we should in advancing education:
- The unknown is frightening. Some educators don’t want change and communities are afraid to test new concepts. Parents don’t want their child to learn in a novel environment. Without fact-based research from education experts and outside consultants, status quo becomes an acceptable solution.
- We overlook outside experts during design. Yes I am guilty of this. During the design phase I typically encourage input from teachers, students, community members and other K-12 experts. However, if our goal is to create the best environment for kids, we should engage neuroscientists, consultants who are sensitive to student behavior, anthropologists who study human behavior, and other researchers. These experts can only enhance our designs.
- The term classroom is outdated. I prefer learning environment. By approaching school design in terms of environments versus classrooms we allow desired behaviors and activities performed in specific spaces to inform our designs. Together, with our outside experts like neuroscientists and researchers, we can explore, dream and design spaces that enhance the educational experience for students.
Our role in this endeavor is to educate our clients on the importance of what brain research tells us how humans learn, and encourage them to be willing to explore alternative methods of instruction in non-traditional environments. I am fully prepared to call upon outside experts during my next design opportunity. Who’s with me?