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April 15, 2021

The educational learning curve after the pandemic

  • The focus should be on ensuring that all students have equal access to the same spaces, tools and technologies.
  • BY DONNA BARRY
    Gensler Seattle

    Barry

    When the world came to a screeching standstill a year ago, we did not yet know how much would change in our everyday work, life and learning. The pandemic forced our teachers, students, parents, and educational institutions to adapt to new, accelerated, hybrid, and remote learning models that hadn’t existed on this scale before.

    Within a short period of time we have experienced an unprecedented change and are now looking at the knowledge gained and thinking about what a more resilient and fairer education system could look like in the future.

    At Gensler, we recently released our design forecast for the coming year, exploring trends, insights and advice on how to address the pandemic’s tactical challenges. Below are some of the trends we expect after the pandemic:

    At UCLA Anderson School of Management, learning, administrative, and event space can be organized around an active, interactive, open environment that allows students, faculty, administrators, and visitors to network.

    LEARN HYBRID

    Choosing between virtual and physical learning environments is critical to equal access to seamless digital and physical experiences. Hybrid academic environments need to be adaptable to support each learner while keeping pace with constant change. Disposable rooms will be a thing of the past and instead will have multiple lives as they evolve and adapt.

    DESIGN TO THE EDGE

    Institutions need to move away from creating an optimal experience for all students and instead focus on creating multiple, different pathways so that each learner is welcome and feels a part of.

    TALENT DEVELOPMENT

    The repositioning of the talent pool towards marketable and adaptable skills is accelerating. To promote economic vitality, education is geared towards industry to promote talent and promote job placement. The emergence of unlikely collaborations between subjects, industries and departments has broadened the definition of interdisciplinary culture and will better empower institutions to address complex challenges operationally and academically.

    DATA INFORMED

    As the competition for students and funding increases, the institutions concentrate on measurable successes and effects. A focus on the user experience makes it easier to increase resource allocation, improve student and faculty recruitment and retention, scholarships, funding, academic achievement, and partnerships.

    RESISTANT CAMPUS + COMMUNITIES

    The University of Kansas Capitol Federal Hall has expansive spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration to maximize visibility and accessibility. They can also serve as a link between the most important program elements of a building.

    The campus is no longer an isolated bubble. The triple bottom line for educational institutions ??? socially, economically and ecologically ?? will require a holistic approach to resilience in terms of sustainability, wellness, and operational and technological preparation.

    VALUE OF THE SITE

    Virtual access to knowledge is constantly evolving, but personal experience is essential for cognitive skills, building social and emotional relationships, and stimulating inspiration. As learning shifts online, personal experiences and culture need to be more impactful for students connecting with each other, with the faculty, and with the wider world context.

    As we continue to search for possible solutions to an evolved academic system, the key element connecting all of these potential solutions is, ?? and honestly the most important thing ?? is the student. While teachers and parents are sure to face a wide variety of challenges themselves, students will be hardest hit and will experience the most lasting effects on their social, emotional, or physical wellbeing.

    When we finally live in a post-pandemic world, how can we future-proof our schools so that we are better prepared for the next pandemic or societal challenge? How can we evolve the design of our schools to enhance the student experience and promote learning and success? After Gensler spent months studying the changing space requirements at colleges and universities during the pandemic, Gensler identified four key design strategies that will shape the next generation of campus buildings:

    COMMUNITY

    Campuses need to support the “whole student” and prioritize programs that target physical, social, and emotional wellbeing. Providing spaces to support interaction and collaboration and finding services to maximize visibility and accessibility are of paramount importance. A combination of digital platforms built into physical space will bring the greatest value to human connection and increase the learner’s sense of belonging.

    MULTIDISCIPLINARY INCUBATORS

    Academic incubators and interdisciplinary spaces support entrepreneurship. These environments and support networks will evolve and become even more important in diversifying the economy and providing an engine for community growth. Spaces that connect industry and science and promote workforce development, R&D and innovation will continue to permeate education.

    TECHNICAL AREAS OF COOPERATION

    Despite advances in online communication and whiteboarding programs, face-to-face collaboration sessions are still the priority. Academic buildings become meeting places where groups can meet, learn and shape together. Flexible space supports dynamic, personal collaboration. These hyper-flexible and technology-enabled learning environments offer choices based on how learners and teachers best interact between virtual and physical space.

    NEW LECTURE FORMATS

    “Upside Down Classrooms” arose out of a unique question: why bring students together in a 1,000-seat classroom to sit in a non-interactive environment when you can record it (or broadcast it live) and let those students hear the lecture from theirs instead Dorm rooms and use alternating lesson times for smaller, personal groups? The shift to distance learning puts a renewed focus on the conversion of lecture halls into collaborative environments and hyper-personalized practical training in smaller cohorts.

    When more schools, colleges and universities reopen? in what potentially new hybrid fashion that may be? We have to use the findings from the past year and recognize the serious deficiencies that have been discovered and of course correct them. Society has never been more aware of the challenges surrounding equal learning as it is now. While we wait to see how our academic system will perform after the pandemic, it is important that the focus is placed on ensuring that all of our students have equal access to the same spaces, tools, and technology. Finally, we teach our future managers. It is time for universities to evolve to meet all students at the same, equal starting point. We cannot afford to fall short of this learning curve.

    Donna Barry is the architect, design director, senior associate and director of higher education for Gensler’s Seattle office.

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