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Designing for Active Learning in the Classroom

The classroom has come a long way from the days of students sitting in rows of desks, passively taking notes as a teacher lectures from a chalkboard. New pedagogies and technologies, combined with a greater understanding of brain science, has opened the door to active learning, a more fluid style of education which naturally incorporates different modes of learning.

Research from Steelcase and other organizations has shown that the engagement and interaction that comes with active learning provides a more effective way to learn. The multi-sensory approach to education that defines active learning increases engagement, promotes deeper participation, maximizes student achievement, and elevates the idea that learning is fun.

As learning becomes more interactive, classrooms must support multiple styles of collaboration, including informative, peer-to-peer, and evaluative. But 20th century classroom design often hinders 21st century methods of learning.

The majority of classrooms in use today were designed to accommodate traditional passive styles of education. Instructors wishing to adopt active learning often struggle with access to technology while inflexible layouts and furniture make collaboration difficult. Static furniture simply cannot support active learning. Fully embracing active learning in the classroom involves approaching classroom design with three main areas in mind: pedagogy, technology and space.

Pedagogy

For active learning, flexibility is key. Teachers need to be able to move to into interact with students and effortlessly transition between modes of teaching. Students also need to be able to shift gears just as easily as their teachers. By using furniture that can easily be reconfigured, such as our Verb tables, moving between individual learning, team projects, and peer-to-peer learning can feel like second nature.

Technology

Integration with technology is essential for active learning. Any technology used in a classroom, whether it’s integrated instructional technology or part of a BYOD initiative, should be thoughtfully chosen with consideration to the pedagogical strategies being used. Classrooms also need to support varying styles of learning and products like our media:scape LearnLabs allow information to be displayed persistently, offer analog and digital means to co-create, and allow for synchronous and asynchronous learning and collaboration.

Space

Keeping visual and physical access in mind ensures that every student always has the best seat in the house. For social learning, students need spaces that allow them to easily connect and collaborate. Our Node Tripod Base chairs with worksurface are an ideal option for active learning classrooms, allowing for movement while always keeping a work surface within reach.


Making the transition to active learning requires a new approach to classroom design, but it’s important not to lose sight of the school’s mission. The modern classroom should be designed to support and reflect the educational goals and mission of the institution, helping students be as successful as possible.

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