How a Shift in Student Learning is Driving 21st Century School Design

Learning opportunities can happen anywhere, anytime

How a Shift in Student Learning is Driving 21st Century School Design

by Tom Wannen, AIA 

This past October, I had the opportunity to attend the national EdSpaces Conference and Expo in New Orleans, which focuses on improving learning environments in K-12 and Higher Education facilities. The conference was held in conjunction with the AIA Committee on Architecture for Education which provided over 30 education sessions and the Expeditionary Learning & Facility tour of LB Landry High School, Ursuline Academy, and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

While I experienced a sensory overload of new and exciting classroom furnishings and technology products on display, the one aspect of the conference I found most interesting was the general discussion on the shift to student-centered learning. Countless articles on 21st century learning environments in recent years lead some to argue that it is a fad or an experiment recreated from the 1970’s. Still, there is a guiding principle behind 21st Century design that I believe has now gained consensus among students, teachers, administrators and designers: Learning behavior is shifting from ‘teacher-centered’ to a ‘student-centered’ approach. This is mainly a result of students learning more from each other and from themselves with the use of technology.

One seminar I attended, ‘Technology in Education: Transforming Learning Environments’ discussed the ‘Mosaic Generation’ as a different group than the Millennials in that they are always connected and expect full and immediate access to media at all times. This is substantiated in that students are found to be bringing on average 2.7 devices per student to higher education settings compared to the 1.0 devices that architects and engineers are typically designing these spaces to accommodate. The location for the use of this technology also varies in that students are finding ‘cave’ spaces for independent research and study both inside and outside the school building. There is also an increasing demand for smaller group huddle rooms of four to five students equipped with flat screens. One University even mentioned they would give up three full size classrooms for 10 huddle rooms.

Library designed by HuntonBrady Architects at Valencia College in Florida provides space for independent study, group collaboration and smaller technology-enabled huddle rooms.

The physical location of learning is not bound by the school building, either, as explained in the seminar ‘Non-Traditional Learning Environments’. Edible school yard projects and teaching kitchens are increasing across the country to teach students how healthy food choicesalso affect their communities and the environment. Programs like TREE: Teaching Responsible Earth Education, allow students to spend up to five consecutive days in the forest learning an environmental science program.

HuntonBrady Architects teamed with Midtown Architecture Studio to design the Edible Schoolyard and teaching kitchen for Orlando Junior Academy, a private K-8 school in Florida.

HuntonBrady Architects teamed with Midtown Architecture Studio to design the Edible Schoolyard and teaching kitchen for Orlando Junior Academy, a private K-8 school in Florida.

The main takeaway from the conference is that learning opportunities can happen anywhere and at any time, and we should be careful not to neglect these opportunities. I am excited to be part of the process to help shape learning environments for our children and improve their educational experience.



designing excellence

About Tom Wannen, AIA

Mr. Wannen brings over 16 years of architectural design experience to your project. He has worked as a Project Manager and Project Architect on Commercial, Educational, Religious, Healthcare, and Multi-family Residential projects. Tom has received two design awards which include First Place for the 2010 Florida Foundation For Architecture Healthcare Clinic for the Homeless Design Competition and Third Place for the 2009 Florida Foundation for Architecture, Sustainable Classroom Design Competition.

View All Posts

Sketches Blog Comment & Posting Policy

The purpose of this blog is both to inform and encourage a dialogue about architecture and interior design. This is a moderated blog, and HuntonBrady Architects retains the discretion to determine which comments it will post and which it will not. We kindly ask that you follow these guidelines. If your message does not abide by the guidelines, it may be removed:

  • We will delete comments that contain abusive, vulgar, offensive, threatening or harassing language, personal attacks of any kind, or offensive terms that target specific individuals or groups. We do not discriminate against any views, but reserve the right to remove posted comments that do not adhere to these standards.
  • We will delete comments that are clearly off-topic, that promote services or products, or that promote or oppose any political party, person campaigning for elected office, or any ballot proposition.
  • Your comments are welcome at any time. We will moderate comments between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm Monday through Friday, excluding federal holidays. We intend to moderate comments submitted at other times as soon as possible on the next business day.
  • Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in the comment being removed.
  • Do not post personally identifiable information such as social security numbers, addresses and telephone numbers. Comments containing this information will be removed from blog.
  • The appearance of external links on this site does not constitute official endorsement on behalf of HuntonBrady Architects. We reserve the right to modify this Comment & Posting Policy at any time.

← Prev Sketches Blog ItemWhy First Impressions In Hospital Lobbies Matter

Next Sketches Blog Item →University of Miami Architecture Students Are Shaping The Future of Healthcare Design