Learning Space Design for Student Success in 2021 and Beyond

  • In Chicago, a third grader attends virtual school at the dining room table, her laptop perched on a stack of books and her father nearby in case she needs help.
  • A high school student in Maine is learning physics in a newly designed classroom, with 10 of her classmates, all wearing masks, at desks more than 6 feet apart. The other six students are connecting to the class remotely.
  • A North Carolina middle schooler is on his family’s living room floor, with his two brothers nearby, connecting with his classmates virtually as they discuss the impact of the Cold War on our country.
  • In Arizona, 20 first-grade students are learning in a redesigned classroom with desks that the teacher has decorated to look like cars, placed around the room for social distancing. The weather is warm so, this afternoon, they will go outside for science class.

This school year, learning spaces certainly look different from how we may have previously imagined, but the environment in which students are learning still has a profound impact on their success. It is important that companies supporting education think about how they can help educators with creative solutions for designing and furnishing their learning spaces in light of the impact of COVID-19, but also to maximize their investment for the future.

Two years ago, we released a report, “The Impact of Learning Spaces on Student Success,” developed in  partnership with the EDmarket Association and based on a survey of more than 1,600 teachers. The 80+-page report (now available for free download from our web site) looks at themes that evolved from the outcomes of the survey, such as issues regarding flexibility and collaboration, the importance of technology integration, and intentional design in modern classroom spaces.

At first glance, you might think, “Well all of that went out in the window in 2020.” But MDR recently sponsored the 2020 EDspaces virtual conference and we revisited the report. What we found is that the themes resonate even more today and demonstrate that environment matters wherever students are learning. Consider these points:

  1. Nearly 95 percent of teachers told us that space has a moderate/high impact on student learning and, for anyone with kids learning remotely, we are sure that finding resonates for you. Not just sitting in one place all day also matters a great deal.
  2. More than 80 percent of teachers at all grade levels told us that encouraging movement and less sedentary behavior is important, even more so in elementary school. Makes sense for remote learning! Think about how much information you are absorbing when you are on your sixth consecutive Zoom call of the day.

To be back in the classroom while social distancing, educators have had a lot to take into consideration when it comes to learning spaces. In many instances, they are dealing with old buildings — 73 percent of our country’s more than 100,000 public schools were built before 1969, as cited in our report. Classrooms may not be large enough to accommodate students learning six feet apart and old structures may not be able to adopt CDC recommendations. Therefore, as teachers and administrators make decisions about learning models, space design, and furniture purchases, it is important to consider flexible pieces that will work in any environment and support the changing needs of the classroom.

No matter where students are learning, pedagogy and curriculum are directly impacted by space. Talk to your customers about how your solutions are flexible and can allow them to easily make accommodations to wherever students are learning. The MDR team is here to help you as your organization thinks about how you can communicate with schools about solutions that will accelerate student learning in whatever environment they are learning from.