Agile, flexible and visually pleasing design is having a positive impact on student learning outcomes, engagement and creativity, research shows.

No longer are classrooms confining students to desk-based learning from a teacher who spends much of their time at the front of the room. Increasingly they are trending towards open, light-filled spaces that allow for indoor/outdoor transition and options for one on one or group learning.

It’s a trend that also fits with efforts by schools to prepare students for a seamless transition to university style education and trends in contemporary workplace design.

Today’s classrooms also allow students to explore a range of different learning options and incorporate small spaces for individual learning or a place to take time out, as well as standing and sitting spaces where students can gather for discussion.

Education sector design exponents Deb Aukland and Tracey Roughana, from Brown Falconer Architects say schools that invest in new and upgraded learning spaces that reflect their pedagogy are seeing real learning improvements

Research by Rubida Research for Brown Falconer’s Wilderness School master plan shows there is increased recognition of the diverse range of learning styles now increasingly being implemented by many of South Australia’s leading schools.

A study by the UK’s University of Salford also found that:

  • 25% of the variation in pupil performance can be explained by the built environment;
  • Classroom layout can improve concentration, enhance learning, and encourage better behaviour;
  • Students show enhanced engagement in designs that feature ergonomically designed furniture; and
  • Links to nature have a positive impact on creative processes.

“It’s a very exciting time to be involved in the education sector,’’ Ms Aukland said. “The research says that increasingly schools now require space that can adapt to formal and informal settings. Spaces that provide the capacity for independent self-guided learning, one-to-one, small group activities, practical and project based activities, presentations and group learning.

“More and more learning areas are zoned to respond to ‘reflective’, ‘creative’ and ‘interactive’ learning modalities.’’

Reflective spaces provide quiet zones for small groups of one to six students; creative spaces are ‘making and exploring’ areas for groups of up to 15 students with access to technology and wet areas, while interactive spaces provide for large group collaborative activities with access to specialist services areas.

There is also an increased emphasis on both the environment and nature as teaching aids, Ms Aukland said.

This means far greater connection between the learning space and the outdoors and might include leaving services visible, so that students can observe a building’s inner workings – the building and environment become the ‘third teacher’.

“This approach reflects the Reggio Emilia early learning philosophy that every students learns in different ways using all of their senses including auditory, visual and verbal and that space and the environment are very important players.’’

Brown Falconer has worked in both the public and independent school sector including projects at Mt Gambier High School; Eden Hills Primary; Magill Primary; Loreto College; Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish School, Wilderness School and Westminster School and each project has featured many of the latest learning theory innovations trends.

“All our latest work shows that the days of students sitting behind desks while a teacher lectures from the front of the classroom in front of a board are well and truly gone,’’ Ms Roughana said. “The flipped classroom is being embraced by schools. This is where students do their background reading and research external to the classroom and come ready to discuss and explore ideas with their peers. We’ve also received strong anecdotal feedback from schools that students and teachers are responding really well to the new spaces and outcomes have improved.

“The trend now is to create the kinds of spaces that will help students move seamlessly from early learning, primary and secondary education into university or vocational learning and then to contemporary workplaces, all which increasingly incorporate communal, agile workspaces and features.

“This approach removes some of the transitional disruption of moving from one institution to another and plays a real part in creating work ready students.’’

Feel, function and longevity are all part of the design ethos at Brown Falconer Architects which also works in the health, commercial, multi-use and residential sectors.