At what point does an educational institution decide it's time?
It is easy to visualize a school corridor, lined with lockers and doors on opposite sides of the hallway that lead to the classrooms that have served learning so well and for so many years. It's also easy to visualize the school cafeteria, the library, and the common spaces where students congregate. After all, it's school and the representation of that is etched on the minds of everyone that has ever attended school.
So, when is it time to do something different with the spaces of school and how they serve learning? Are schools approaching a "tipping point" where their is a growing realization that their spaces, classrooms and otherwise, are rapidly losing their relevancy and are no longer capable of supporting a contemporary education?
Rethinking spaces means focusing on the student experience that the school wishes for its students. It does not mean focusing first on furniture, on technology, lighting, or some other "thing." Rethinking spaces is about experience first, and things second. As it should be.
It is also about understanding that schools can no longer be an isolated entity and their own islands of learning. Learning in 2015 is a connected endeavor represented by an ecology of learning opportunities, some that take place in formal institutions like school, but also some that are designed by learners themselves, and that are outside of the physical boundaries of school in spaces of the learner's choosing. Learning spaces today must be visualized in a 24-7 context, and not simply in a 8 AM to 3:30 PM container.
There are many compelling opportunities for learning that are emerging, including blended and online learning, as well as the always-on Internet, with its availability of on-demand learning experiences, supported by creative and innovative ways that connect people, ideas, and resources together.
These are all catalysts, and they relentlessly push on the traditional boundaries of education toward a tipping point that can, and hopefully, will lead to action. That's a good thing. That push should include a focus on the spaces where learning occurs and create a sense of urgency for creating new types of spaces and experiences.
Simply stated, a contemporary education means placing learners at the center of a connected world. That requires new thinking about the dimensions of learning and how learners leverage formal experiences in school, as well as serve as their own agents of learning. And that process can begin by rethinking learning spaces, both physical and digital, and how the two spaces interact to create a more expansive condition for learning.