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Learning and teaching have been undergoing radical change in the 2010s. The improving understanding of the mechanisms of learning and the profound change in the need for skills due to advances in technology are global forces for change that have led to curriculum reforms in Finland and abroad. The impact is evident in teachers’ work and in learning environments in many ways.

To stay ahead of and to monitor changes in learning environments, Martela has conducted annual surveys at the Educa Fair since 2012. In the survey, respondents are shown illustrative images of learning environments and asked which environments they prefer for work or study, what kind of spaces inspire them the most and which solutions best support learning.

“The results show how the teaching and learning process is evolving from the perspective of space. Classrooms filled with desks have held their own until fairly recently but in the last decade or so there has been serious effort to find alternatives. It is clear that as curriculums change, classrooms cannot stay the same,” says Marko Kuuskorpi, a principal and a researcher who has analysed the survey results.

Towards more open and personal encounters with students

What stands out in the survey results is that there is an increasing need for individualised learning skills and for improvement of social skills. The results reflect surprisingly closely the work that is being done on reforming curriculums. Key reform goals include reinforcing students’ activeness, focusing on a broad spectrum of skills and increasing variation and interaction in work.

The first survey, conducted in 2012, already provided strong evidence that there is demand for alternatives to conventional classrooms with desks. This is the result of developments in information and communication technologies and a desire to expand learning environments. There is more and more debate on various spatial solutions and using lobbies and school yards as learning environments.

In the annual surveys after 2012, key themes have included adaptability, flexibility and the activeness of and interaction between students. Instead of a classroom that centres on the teacher, flexible furniture solutions that enable user-centred adaptation became the starting point for design. In 2014, when respondents were shown three different space alternatives, as many as 50% of them said that they were most inspired by the one with several different groups of furniture.

New flexibility with versatile learning areas

With the Finnish curriculum reform of the mid-2010s, student activity and learning skills were given the main focus in school work. The Educa surveys also focused on how spaces promote interaction. People started to think of school in a more holistic way as a place where the different spaces have their own roles in promoting a culture of multidisciplinary learning. Adaptable spatial solutions that enable several groups to be taught at the same time became favourites.

In 2017, the learning environment debate was inspired by learning areas that consist of several spatial units. The spaces in these areas are of different sizes, and are furnished and equipped differently, and they are a natural fit for learning groups irrespective of their size. The opinions of teaching professionals emphasised supporting teaching methods that focus on interaction between students.

At the most recent Educa Fair, organised in 2018, the survey looked at visitors’ opinions on how open learning areas should be. A learning environment consisting of movable workstations and seats that can easily be adapted for big and small groups was considered to best support learning.

“There is a change underway in schools towards a more team-oriented culture that favours co-teaching. Furniture solutions are an enabler in this development work. We must boldly reform existing spaces and build new learning environments,” says Marko Kuuskorpi.

2012 results

         a 10%

b 59%

c 31%

     

 

2018 results

         a 34,2%

b 39,2%

c 26,6%

 

The key themes of the responses to Educa surveys in 2012-2018

2012 - expansion from desk-based classrooms to lobbies, yards and new types of spaces

2013 - designing spatial solutions on the terms of the learning process

2014 - supporting student activity and interaction

2015 - complete learning spaces comprising several different spaces and interaction

2016 - systemic solutions where spaces support a culture of multidisciplinary learning

2017 - broader learning areas comprising separate spaces, which are suitable for co-teaching

2018 - flexibility and adaptability that support work in small and large groups
 

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