By Vandana Nayak and Tyler Murph
When applied to design the word “trend” can unintentionally imply a temporary nature, a fashion of the moment likely to be replaced as soon as the next idea shows up. However, it’s time to stop thinking about trends in education as ephemeral, but rather as concepts that evolve over time through informed approaches.
Today, the future of education is being defined by this very evolution—through rigorous research and study. Advances in education research and neuroscience are revealing exactly why certain pedagogical and environmental factors benefit the learning process. Support for things like team-based learning, hands-on technology, and generous non-classroom workspace is no longer anecdotal but rather grounded in science.
It starts with placemaking, which is at the core of any good design. People with a strong attachment to ‘place’ are more self-aware, more aware of other’s needs, and are more connected to the community. Environments created with a clear sense of place, wherein students can comfortably engage with their surroundings and each other, is pivotal to the success of the student. Designers must consider a host of factors, such as scale, mental and physical wellbeing, neurodiverse appropriate spaces, informal learning environments, and varieties of instructional areas. Additionally, schools are taking care to ensure that students know their learning facility has been created with their needs top-of-mind.
Many schools and designers are leaning into the prioritization of health and wellness––not just from a safety and security standpoint, but with a deeper understanding of mental health. Students need room for both emotional space and areas that encourage them to learn and explore life skills. In order to achieve a more balanced offering of spaces, emphasis is being placed on providing areas where students can seek respite or assistance. Easy access to instructors, counselors, leadership, and other faculty is key to a student’s success.
Research has demonstrated that access to nature provides measurable benefits for hospital patients, but the same applies for education environments. Visual connections to nature in instructional spaces provide rest to the brain’s focus centers, and therefore increase the brain’s ability to receive and process new information. Physical access to nature provides similar and even more profound benefits to the entire body.
Successful institutions will continue to move away from the “one-size-fits-all” mentality. This shift away from the didactic model will instead lean toward an engaged learning model that accommodates a diverse student body. While there is some debate about the legitimacy of the idea that learning styles vary, there is no question about the efficacy of the team-based learning model in classrooms. Physical engagement with other students and the material being taught is crucial to success in the classroom.
Additionally, amenities that were formerly not a part of traditional school structures, such as genderless bathrooms and meditation rooms, are also finding their way into new facilities. Though seemingly small adjustments, these offerings are crucial to fostering an inclusive environment.
Designers also seek to meet the needs of educators by providing them with the proper tools to successfully inspire students through their curriculum. While younger educators navigate pedagogical challenges and technology better, designers must accommodate all faculty by creating environments that easily support ever-changing technology.
Schools are also implementing more flexible office spaces for educators, allowing easier access to students and each other. Students with even occasional interaction with instructors outside the classroom are significantly more likely to graduate. These adaptable office spaces allow educators to feel more approachable to students who need support. To this end, this approach also helps break down the old hierarchy of the didactic classroom model.
Lastly, ever-evolving cross market trends continue to influence the education sector. Other industries have demonstrated how to create well-rounded, enjoyable built spaces which can directly impact student performance, and institutions recognize the value of bringing those successes into education environments. Likewise, student expectation is driving institutions to rethink many aspects of their facilities. For example, student cafes are being modeled after popular coffee chains that offer a wide variety of seating options and technology access for its patrons.
Ultimately our goal as designers is to create smarter, more diverse, more supportive spaces to provide every opportunity for students to thrive. We should be students of science ourselves, in order to better understand how to create successful learning environments. We should be students of people, so that we may better understand the people we design for. Students who thrive in education environments go on to build a stronger society––and it is our responsibility to equip these students to do just that.
Vandana Nayak is a regional education practice leader and principal, and Tyler Murph is a senior designer, both with Perkins and Will.