Flexible learning means many things to educators. At its most basic, the paradigm embodies mobility, time liberation and a variety of group/individual experiences beyond the classroom lecture. Flexibility in learning manifests in different ways depending on the subject, the student/faculty involved, the technology, and physical space available (or not).
Most New York State educators, and in fact many in the Northeast Region of the U.S. are faced with Industrial or Modern era buildings that are not designed to optimize flexibility. The double loaded corridors with identical classrooms lined up in a row do not lend to the experiences that flexible learning curricular demands.
Architects along with educators are tasked with converting old buildings and sites that fight back against change. This is due to poor physical layouts and adjacencies, heavy masonry construction, and conflicts with aging codes, regulations, and aid structures.
As a stopgap, interior Architects improved flexibility by providing castors on the classroom furniture and artifacts. This was beneficial in many ways but did not get at the core issue.
If rolling furniture is not the proxy for flexible learning, what is? It is the spaces, physical and implied, in, out and around the school that allow for diverse learning modes and time harvesting.
Spaces are designed for a particular mode of working and learning, not for a particular subject or teacher. The spaces include:
• Conversation Spaces are for learning that happens through discussion or presentation. These include presentation/seminars rooms, media rooms, cafeteria, and social spaces.
• Idea Spaces are designed for brainstorming and problem-solving in groups. They vary in size and transparency. They are well equipped with technology and working walls.
• Maker Spaces are equipped for design, building and prototyping. They combine technology, materials, and machines to facilitate experimentation with built objects. Transparency of walls and placement of maker spaces in well
trafficked areas increase the popularity of this real-world type of learning.
• The Commons are designed for learning through social interaction. It is not a singular space but is a continuous pathway linking all the above spaces together and incorporating the media center, guidance, cafeterias, physical education spaces and the arts.
The Commons are open to everyone and used at times convenient to the learners. It forms the backbone of the student and faculty experience. Ideally, The Commons incorporate outdoor learning environments including social and dining, performance, ecology, and biology constructs.
How can we make sure New York State students get the flexible spaces they need to promote the learning they deserve? By creating a comprehensive plan. By not being shy about change. By having urgency. By listening to the stake holders who are the future of our state.