Top Five Flexible Learning Spaces
Flexible learning spaces provide students and educators the freedom to adapt to their needs at any given moment. These types of spaces allow users to modify their environment to fit a variety of learning styles and activities, from individual to small group to large group exercises. When designed correctly, adjustable spaces can increase engagement, and foster active teaching and learning to elevate the educational experience.
As an educational designer, I believe flexible areas are some of the most challenging, yet rewarding spaces to design. Starting with a blank canvas, I envision how the space could function day to day, week to week, and how it could be transformed to meet the needs of every student over time. Ultimately, my goal is to create a space that enhances the learning environment rather than hinders it.I’m amazed when I return to a school I’ve designed to see first-hand how students embrace the opportunity to change their learning space on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis.
Below are five of my favorite DLR Group-designed schools that incorporate flexibility into the design.
Dickinson Middle School in Dickinson, North Dakota is one of the most flexible schools to open in 2017. DLR Group incorporated operable glass walls and sliding doors to give students and teachers the ability to customize their learning space on a whim. Users can create various configurations of space ranging from 400 to 1,200 SF, depending on the needs of the moment. This hyper-flexible school supports various modalities of learning to engage every student.
Students in Joplin, Missouri, expressed a desire for a variety of courtyards and outdoor learning spaces in their new high school. As a result, the Performing Arts Center at Joplin High School provides 1,200 seats that serves the needs of the district and community, as well as a black box theater that opens up to a courtyard amphitheater. By opening a bi-folding hangar door, students can utilize the amphitheater for smaller, more intimate productions in fresh air. This indoor/outdoor connection gives students a choice between an indoor show or an outdoor performance.
Lee High School in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is designed as a campus consisting of three separate academies. A “social commons” component in each academy provides a venue for dining and informal student gathering to help establish a positive and unifying culture; support positive and nurturing relationships; and aid in the social and intellectual development of students and staff. Adjacent to the social commons, the Specialized Learning Lab is strategically located to allow public access for greater connection to the community. Two large folding glass walls afford the flexibility for these spaces to quickly connect and host various events and functions. With assistance from Louisiana State University, these labs provide students with learning environments that relate to a progression of either higher education or the workplace, and are designed with infrastructure and utilities in place to support future programs.
Legacy High School in Bismarck, North Dakota, approached flexibility in two key areas: shared spaces adjacent to core classrooms and exploratory labs. Large, collaborative spaces are connected through overhead doors and can house large or small group gatherings. Classrooms regularly spill into these areas for group work, creating synergy between classes, educators, and students.
Exploratory labs are incorporated into the new high school as a way to introduce students to career and technical educational (CTE) opportunities. These labs are highly visible along main student circulation paths to display hands-on learning and to get students excited for potential CTE careers. Furnishings are moveable to fit the pedagogy of preference.
Flexibility was one of the guiding principles for the new Meadow Park Elementary School in North Little Rock, Arkansas, as existing elementary school buildings in the city weren’t able to accommodate the collaboration young learners desire. DLR Group embraced this opportunity to organize the new school’s grade levels around Discovery Zones, spaces that are furnished with flexible furniture and allow staff to team or vary the environment for different student activities. Discovery Zones are filled with technology and storage, and have access to the exterior, providing opportunities for students to enjoy nature walks and outdoor gardens just steps from their indoor learning environment. Beyond the traditional school day, Discovery Zones can transform into community spaces or pre-function areas for extracurricular activities at the school.
Whether it’s a daily, weekly, or yearly modification, a building must be flexible to change, to mold to the needs of its users. Through strategic placement of spaces and elements, we can ensure the building will enhance the learning environment, and become an asset for teaching and learning.