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An Evolving Learning Environment

Date: Mar 23, 2022

Author: Kevin Kemner, Design Principal, TSK Reno-Tahoe

Two years ago, if you had polled educators, students, and design professionals what the future of education looked like, a large majority of responses would have focused on greater use of technology, a shift towards individual learning, and a move away from traditional learning environments. The intervening pandemic years accelerated this future giving educators and researchers valuable insight into the impact of large-scale distance and individual learning. The findings have been mixed. Early on it became apparent that distanced student achievement was not keeping pace with the traditional in-school achievement due to a range of factors such as the disruptive nature of the transition to distance learning, infrastructure limitations, content limitations, student learning skills inadequate for distance learning, and teaching skills not yet adapted for distance instruction.

Surprisingly, the transition to digital learning platforms, which was expected to create a more equitable learning experience, in its implementation actually magnified social and economic inequities for both students and teachers. To mitigate this, school districts with adequate resources could direct capital funds to provide take home devices (laptops/tablets) although internet access and additional at-home technology were still limited by individual household income. Capital investment, however, could not mitigate the most challenging issues which are sociological.

As we are learning, student success in distance learning is heavily influenced by the at-home environment. Students with dedicated at-home learning centers perform better than students who don’t. Students with better educated parents perform better than students whose parents have limited education attainment. Students who have a readily available parent for mentoring perform better than those who don’t. Student attention during online coursework is higher in students who have a dedicated at-home parent who can double as a mentor. The number of siblings as well may have an impact on student achievement in a distance learning environment. In other words, the large-scale implementation of distance learning also came with the large-scale offsetting of things that schools, by their nature as physical interactive places, provide: space for learning, direct mentoring, group learning, and socialization. Households that had the wherewithal to absorb this offset of space, knowledge, and time could succeed whereas households that did not inevitably saw student achievement decline.

As we begin to consider the future of school and learning environment design, there is much that we should begin to learn from the past two years including the importance of the school facility itself, it’s role in providing an equitable education experience, and place for healthy development and socialization skills.

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