As we revert to something remotely close to “normal”, uncertainty fills the air. Schools, colleges, and universities must imagine future classroom designs that will meet everyone’s unique needs. To ensure that students and teachers are safe in a post-pandemic environment things will likely begin to look different. Our opportunity rests in reimagining traditional learning experiences to make face-to-face connections even better than before. 

As we navigate through new normals, educators will need to think about how to use technology and flexible classroom spaces in ways that will create safe blended learning environments and bring about the best outcomes. We’ve identified three key steps that might make the road to change a little less bumpy. 

Step 1: Responding to the Present Moment

The most immediate priority will be to welcome students and educators back to environments that make them feel as safe as possible. This could involve introducing staggered daily and weekly schedules for classes and activities, keeping an even balance between in-person and remote learning. New classroom layouts for social distancing will need to be put in place, calling for adjustments to the existing physical space. 

This can be done by implementing new collaborative classroom furniture design that honors individual space while adding in new safety elements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Some strategies for future classroom designs that can be put to use are:

  • Limiting classroom capacity.
  • Conducting alternative seating research.
  • Repurposing larger unused spaces—like gyms and libraries—for classes.
  • Having students remain in one location while teachers move from class to class.
  • Adding appropriate barriers.
  • Implementing classroom space planning techniques that change the configuration and placement of desks to observe six feet physical distancing guidelines.
  • Frequent cleaning.
  • Adequate support for those still working solely in online learning environments.

Step 2: Planning for the Short Term

The next step will involve observing the first wave of changes so that educators can use the data like a benchmark to measure what worked and what didn’t. As we discover more about COVID-19, educators will be able to create even safer environments. 

Adjustments to classroom designs and common spaces will need to take place to accommodate more people while still following suggested guidelines and protocols. 

Some solutions for creating the ideal socially distanced classroom include: 

  • Designing smooth, easy-to-clean surfaces with barriers that will help to deflect the virus. 
  • Embracing how technology and the physical environment can work together to create better blended learning experiences.
  • Introducing more collaboration tools and devices that support standing connections.

Step 3: Looking Out Toward the Future

As we look toward the future, learning environments will be reinvented to enhance the experiences that traditional education offers. Curriculums and pedagogies will change and our new classroom designs should reflect these new priorities. There will be a greater emphasis on safety while still supporting social and collaborative learning. We’ll have to work harder to find new ways to maintain the physical synergy that can’t be replicated in online learning environments. 

Some strategies for future classroom space planning will involve:

  • Building flexible classrooms and fluid spaces to better support the expectations of educators and students.
  • Developing enhanced blended learning connections to merge online and physical experiences in ways that create an elevated sense of community. 

COVID-19 has shed a tremendous light on the value of education. It has also shown us that it will be quite different moving forward. Those who try to hold too tightly to the past may fail to excel as they try to navigate what’s next. Learning institutions that have been most successful at developing future classroom designs have done well to create a community of support for their students. 

bkm’s latest project, The North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood at UCSD, is reimagining how students live, learn and play. Interested in learning more? Read all about it here

If you have more questions about how to achieve the ideal blended learning environment, contact us here