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New designs for learning

Australia’s education facilities are experiencing rapid change and reform in their technology, learning structures and learning environments. This poses a new set of challenges for senior management and teachers alike.

After almost 200 years of teacher-centric model of learning, a student-centric model is emerging. New pedagogies and curriculum development have contributed to the development of inspiring, creative and innovative spaces which can have a significant impact on a students learning ability.

The Victorian government’s Building Futures Strategy, for example, promotes individualised learning, creating settings for innovative teaching, incorporating new technology, being environmentally sustainable and supporting community involvement. Private, Catholic and independent school sectors are embracing these objectives.

Transferring these objectives into the design of a school requires a rethinking of the old models. Collaborative partnerships between architects and policy makers, educators and the broader community are critical to success.

So what are some of the current key trends in education design?

Learning styles, age-related and age-appropriate facility design.

Each child will have different ways in which they learn best: visual, auditive, analytic, kinaesthetic, tactile and non-formal.

A variety of learning spaces, furniture, flexibility in teaching methodology, what is taught and the resources available to each student is now a priority.

Educational facilities with a mix of learning environments designed to meet the learning needs of children at different stages are shown to achieve better outcomes in development of the knowledge, skills and behaviours that define a successful learner.

Flexible learning spaces

Personalised learning, peer-to-peer collaborative learning and team teaching influence the architectural design of physical learning spaces.

The design of the recently completed first stage of Wyndham Vale Catholic Primary School, west of Melbourne, takes into account learning styles and the flexibility of spaces. The architectural master plan was designed to accommodate 450 students in three learning communities, with 150 students in each, providing, among other things, large and small group instruction; a projection and drama area; multi-media facilities and a large wet area/art area.

All spaces lead to outside learning areas.

Successful designs must incorporate opposing elements: small and large, open and enclosed, quiet and noisy, indoor and outdoor. It must introduce an abundance of natural light and fresh air, be resource and technology rich, acoustically controlled and provide a variety of furniture types.

Although a challenge for designers, providing flexible spaces in existing schools can be achieved by reconfiguring classrooms into learning areas, widening corridors to become useful breakout spaces, including more resources in the learning areas and opening up internal spaces to the outside.

Environmentally sustainable design

Environmentally sustainable design (ESD) encompasses environmental and ecological initiatives that reduce the impact of energy consumption and waste production. Research shows that energy conscious design leads to improved building operation, healthier buildings for better staff performance and student learning, reduced operational costs and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

By making ESD visible it becomes part of the curriculum. Energy monitoring devices, exposed water tanks, solar panels and photovoltaic cells can encourage students understanding of, and involvement with, these issues.

These current trends in educational design are exciting and innovative. If the changes can be managed well, the result will be environments that are stimulating and interactive, responsive to students needs, and beneficial to teaching staff.

Educational building designers can provide the impetus for change, but change needs to be led from the top. Managing current and future teaching staff through this time of change will require strong, committed leadership and considerable ongoing professional development and support.

Hal Cutting leads the education sector for Baldasso Cortese architecture firm. He was the architect for the St Kevin’s College Heyington Campus redevelopment, Wyndham Vale Catholic Primary School, Elsternwick Primary School and Billanook College.

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