COVID-19 is showcasing the upside of a blended learning approach to education.

The COVID-19 pandemic uprooted traditional education practices as we knew them. Billions of students and teachers were left without a clear idea as to how to make the necessary transition from in-person learning to online classrooms. The workforce faced similar hurdles as new office demands began to change. Now, educators are able to recognize and better understand just what is missing. 

There’s a new opportunity to learn from what worked—and what didn’t—when reimagining blended learning environments. When we combine our most recent learnings with years of relevant research, we are able to develop insights into how to create the best experiences. Blended learning combines the best of face-to-face and online interaction to improve learning outcomes.

School Planning, Clarity, and Access to Tech Make a Difference

Research found key elements that made a significant difference in whether or not teachers and students had good experiences. When schools had a good grasp on alignment and clarity, students and teachers had a better time with remote classrooms. The same was true when all students had equal access to the internet and certain devices. Teachers who had familiarity with such tools could also effectively use the platforms. Students who practiced self-directed learning more adapted easily to new online learning environments. Open, transparent and meaningful channels of communication between schools, students, teachers and parents were also incredibly important.

Key Insights

Our researchers developed four key insights into remote learning based on research conducted before and during the pandemic.

1. Traditional, on-campus learning is shifting to more competent skills and tailored experiences.

Instead of using class time to lecture to students, more of that same content can be found online while instructors use time with students to work on problem-solving, communication and collaboration.

2. Students and educators have many levels of familiarity and comfort.

For every Microsoft Teams and Zoom expert, there’s someone struggling with its most basic of functions. A variety of training and development coupled with an adequate amount of communication is required as institutions discover the ideal tools that make new hybrid learning environments function properly.

3. Technology can disconnect us from others.

Students’ virtual experiences in new, modern classroom designs can be isolating. They are either solitary—diverting focus from other people—or broadcast experiences in which large groups are exposed to a video. These classrooms offer greater opportunities for personalization, but can also often be text-heavy and lack basic interaction.

4. Blended classrooms are being asked to do more.

The new school designs will have to support higher cognitive activities while they work to build community through moments of spontaneous connection. Many learning environments are often not multi-functional. As online activities extend, the spaces that students learn—such as labs, libraries and lounges—play new purposeful roles in the mix of learning spaces.

Design Principles

Research and insights led to five school design principles that are fundamental to creating productive and safe environments.

Mindset and Preparation 

Traditional environments can provide cues with supportive spaces and technologies by reinforcing plans and communication. It’s important to have:

  • Strategic plans and goals that are aligned with remote classroom values. 
  • Identified platforms and pedagogies.
  • Equal access for all.
  • Support and communication.

Social Connections

Learning happens best when people, technology, and places merge together in innovative ways. Hybrid learning environments should support social connections by:

  • Ensuring engagement with content and visibility on-screen and in-person.
  • Heightened visibility so those on-site can both see and be seen by remote students.
  • Being sensitive to presence disparity so all participants can contribute equally.

High Flexibility 

Classrooms and informal spaces must be highly flexible to support new learning behaviors resulting from new online learning environments. Spaces should support:

  • New methods such as hands-on activities and shifts from one mode of learning to another.
  • Adaptable space and convertibility, i.e. repurposing a space like a gym that becomes a classroom.
  • Loosening spatial boundaries by valuing “in-between places” outside the classroom for learning.

Hosting and Integration

Hosting technology is key for blended learning environments. Power should be distributed throughout the room. It’s important to:

  • Design schools for video streaming—considering camera angles and multiple displays for content and remote users.
  • Support “pixels and pencils”—digital and analog tools such as whiteboards that visualize and share thinking in tandem.
  • Consider what’s next—voice interfaces, AI and VR are already being tested to augment learning.

Density, Geometry and Division 

Blended learning environments can help reduce density, but distancing requirements must still be kept in mind. It’s necessary to consider:

  • Reducing density by removing chairs or desks and using larger spaces like gyms or libraries as classrooms.
  • Changing room composition by rotating desks to face different directions. For instance, a checkerboard pattern can create more space around students.
  • Adding division with user-configurable screens to offer a barrier and autonomy.

As times continue to change, so will the demands of modern classroom designs. Open minds and innovation will be our best friend moving forward. Until then, how do we ensure we’re designing blended classrooms in ways that meet the adequate needs of distant learners? Time will tell. In the meantime, BKM OfficeWorks is here to meet your immediate collaborative classroom furniture needs. 

Interested in learning more? Read about our largest campus project to date, the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) at UCSD, in this blog post and case study

General questions or concerns? Contact us today at (858) 569-4700 or complete this contact form to receive a FREE risk assessment and floor plan analysis.