The more I have considered teaching and learning in the 21st Century, the more convinced I am that our teaching and learning spaces must change to reflect the paradigm shift we are seeing with 21st Century learners and educator.
19th and 20th century classroom collage
19th and 20th century classroom collage

Classrooms have improved since the 19th Century, but essentially they are designed for the same traditional mode of teaching. These classrooms are:
  • teacher-centric
  • designed for single to many communication style
  • lack flexibility
  • are poorly designed for collaboration and communication
  • have limited support for technology
  • rigid in design often unable to be adapted for any other purpose
  • individual focused rather than group focused.
We have seen improvements in the facilities within the classroom, Classes now have better desks and chairs that are more comfortable and of different sizes to accommodate the physical differences in learners. Classroom walls with spaces to decorate and display student learning. The introduction of technology like data projectors, audio and visual systems, better lighting and light control. But all of these are still in the same 20th Century mode.

The 21st Century Learner

A 21st Century curriculum, with 21st century learners and educators would be limited and very restricted by such rooms. If we look at the characteristics of the 21st Century Learner, this will provide us with an indication of what our learning spaces should look like.
21st Century Learners are:
  • Technology literate and adept
  • Media savvy
  • Flexible and dynamic
  • multitasking
  • communicators and collaborators
  • interactive and networked
  • reflective and critical
  • instant
  • creative and adaptive
  • student centric, life long learners & anywhere anytime learners
  • have Multimodal learning styles

The 21st Century Learning Space

Our classrooms to must encompass these characteristics.

Access to technology and media:

The 21st Century classroom is networked, adequately provided with a rich internet connection to support media streams, personal (skype) and group (video conferencing/access grid) communications. Able to upload and download students work and research to suitable structures to support anywhere anytime learning and collaboration. Facilities need to be in place to enable media production, whether its video, audio or text/image based.

Consider this. Many projectors have the facility to support wireless networking enabling the users (teachers and students) to easily connect and then switch between users. How many projectors have this enabled? This flexibility is essential for the 21st Century learners.

Classroom design:

Traditional classrooms are design for a teacher centric delivery mode. 21st Century learners are collaborators and communicators. So the classroom must be designed to enable group collaboration. They must have the flexibility in furnishings and technology to be rearranged with ease and speed. Switching rapidly between individual and groups, presentation, communication and collaborative modes. From these grouping learners and educators must be able to connect, collaborate, share and report - projection and video conference, present and report back.

Classrooms must be able to adapt to different needs of the classroom - space for the students to work quietly and reflectively; space to operate in small groups discussing and debating; space to meet collectively to report, discuss, plan and teach.

Display spaces:

Students will need access to real and virtual display spaces. Whiteboards, pinboards, collaborative learning spaces online, conferences etc. They will need easy and instant access to media systems that they can use to view materials and share their own.
How many classrooms have student whiteboards - how many of us use whiteboards (interactive or traditional) as we interact with our colleagues in meetings.

So what is the classroom of tomorrow like?

I feel that these spaces will probably be multiple rooms within the one learning space. Small meeting rooms attached to the major learning space with an array of facilities (IWB, AV conferencing, whiteboards, networks and collaborative spaces like tables). These rooms would be used for reflective spaces, planning, meeting, collaborating (face to face and online modes) etc.

The main learning space would be a fluid environment - furniture easy to move and manipulate arrange and rearrange to suite the needs of the task or learning. They would ideally have multiple display systems which are easily linked and controlled, allowing teacher control as well as student connection. Access grids are an example of these. They will have to be larger spaces. Learners will not have individual desks rather will have their own spaces.

These spaces need to reflect the audience. They need to be comfortable and appropriate to our learners.

This is not going to be cheap. Larger spaces, more of them with better facilities and resources, connectivity and capacity. This is going to require a quantum change in classroom design. There are questions to be asked like can some facilities be shared - small breakout rooms between classes etc.

Fundamentally there must also be a change in the direction of teaching too. If such a facility was available in your school, who could use this? Would your teachers be able to adapt to this space or would they revert to a more traditional mode of instruction.


Learning space design in 21st Century -
21st Century learning environments for all -
Next generation learning spaces -
Learning for 21st Century -
21st Century Learners - and their approaches to learning -
Designing spaces for effective learning -
Standards for the 21st Century Learner -