The power of personalized learning spaces

Recent advances in technology and classroom design enable personalized learning to blossom
By: | October 18, 2019
Amber Jones is vice president of sales and education for Tangram Interiors.

Personalization now permeates our lives, from internet search results to retail apparel and professional services. It’s also taking hold in the world of education as schools strive to customize learning to each student’s strengths, needs, skills and interests.

Since people of all ages learn differently, educators are continually striving to develop new ways to have the most impact on all students through innovative teaching methodologies and learning spaces.

Recent advances in technology and classroom design have played a significant role in enabling personalized learning to blossom by creating optimum environments for blended learning programs and other concepts. These approaches often combine face-to-face teaching, tech-assisted instruction and student collaboration.

Personalized learning defined

There are four typical models of personalized learning:

  1. Learner Profile. Frequently updated records and profiles used by teachers to tailor learning and by students, teachers and parents to track progress.
  2. Personalized Learning Paths. Unique plans for student schedules and learning methods/styles with different skills and needs addressed at different paces.
  3. Competency-Based Progression. A goal-oriented approach to developing specific competencies with an emphasis on continuous learning.
  4. Flexible Learning Environments. “Design thinking” to adapt the environment including the physical classroom setup, how the school day is structured and how teachers are allocated.

The goals of this quest are to:

  • Expand options for how students work
  • Help students learn independently and work at their own pace
  • Enable students and teachers to nurture stronger relationships
  • Reach the greatest number of students
  • Empower student voice
  • Encourage reflection and feedback between learners and educators

Creating a personalized environment

There are several trends in classroom design that are well known. They include flexible seating and worktable arrangements, multiple screens for viewing by students, room layouts that allow freedom of movement for the teacher, remote presentations, cloud-based resources, and collaborative technologies such as interactive whiteboards.

We know that the nature of the space provided to students will have a high impact on the way they learn. With that in mind, Peter Barrett conducted a study to see which classroom design aspects mattered most. These were his findings:

  • Color. Ample visual stimulation on walls, floors and furniture, warmer for younger students and cooler for older students.
  • Choice. Quality of furniture such as interesting and ergonomic tables and chairs for pupils to support a “this is our classroom” sense of ownership.
  • Connection. Clear and clean corridors, wide and clear pathways, quick access to classrooms and connections to other spaces.
  • Complexity. Novelty of surroundings, interior decor that catches attention, in balance with orderliness.
  • Flexibility.  Easily rearranged furniture for a variety of activities and teaching approaches.
  • Light. Quality and quantity of natural light with control of lighting levels.

Looking beyond the classroom

In addition to these considerations, there are other interesting ways to further personalize the educational experience.

Create an art gallery. We’re referring to space where students’ work is shared with other students. In most cases, students have an opinion as to what work is shown, with the goal of inspiring or educating others and motivating comments. These spaces can be in classrooms, hallways or various other locations around the campus. The location is irrelevant as long as it encourages learning and conversation across the student population.

There’s no place like home. This means bringing favorite attributes of the home atmosphere to campus. Examples range from cozy corners in the library or student success space to a standing-height table that resembles the island of a home kitchen. When students find a place to relax while they learn, they create ownership of those spaces and take their learning to a new comfort level.

Mimic the workspace. Similar to the choice and control that the workspace should allow for adults, schools should allow for similar options. Students need to have the choice to learn in a heads-down setting, in a small group or in large collaborative group sessions. Not only does this allow for ownership over the way students learn, it prepares them for entering the modern work environment.

Build a “playground.” This portion of design speaks to more than just the physical playground that students are provided on school campuses. It also references spaces that allow students to explore and discover through imagination. This can happen in a portion of the classroom where students play with a variety of materials. It could also be STEAM labs or maker spaces that are often being designed on campuses for all ages.

Technology best practices for success

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has outlined several key considerations for transforming educational spaces through technology.

  • Learn from others including other teachers, associations, professional groups and consultants.
  • Leverage existing technology by taking stock of what students already use and are familiar with, while integrating it with a learning management system.
  • Let students make choices through a personalized approach to assignments, along with various ways for them to capture and share information.
  • Choose the best content delivery method such as blended lessons, videos, websites, screencasts and collaboration through interactive systems.
  • Assess continually with methods like interactive questions during videos, observation of students while engaged in activities, discussion threads and self-grading quizzes.

Training and Motivation

As in the deployment of any specialized space, personalized learning environments can be effective only when teachers and staff are trained and prepared to use the space as it was designed. When undergoing a remodel or preparing to change the aesthetics of student space, be sure teachers not only understand why the changes are being made but that they are also prepared to adjust their curriculum to teach effectively and comfortably in the new space.

Training should encompass how to use new furniture as well as new technology to ensure that the people, technology and furniture are fully prepared to deliver an integrated experience.

Amber Jones is vice president of sales and education for Tangram Interiors.