Intelligent Learning Environment

Can we describe what an intelligent modern learning environment should be like? By intelligent, I mean buildings that are designed to support teaching and learning and those who use them. I think that we can.

Stonefields School, Auckland, New Zealand

I have been  reflecting on how we encapsulate what a modern and intelligent learning environment should be like and thought I would share some broad brush criteria. To a large extent there are some linkages between them all, but it may be interesting to think about the relevance of each. They aren’t in a particular order and perhaps they could be thought of as different perspectives from which to challenge the space(s).

Meets minimum standards. Provides enough space, basic standards for health, sanitation, and so on, to support the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 for Quality Education. One of the targets for the SDG 4 states “Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all”. Don’t be fooled into thinking this relates only to developing countries, it really does relate to all countries.

It provides the right kind of spaces and technology that can be used for education. This could be broken down further perhaps by type of education activity with a description of how the space or technology should perform.

Although cost is important – efficiency usually being articulated in terms of cost efficiency – efficiency in the use of the spaces and technology is also key. Responsiveness and ease of use may feed into this too.

There are many well known facets of this. Clearly sustainable in terms of building construction, energy performance, material use, water consumption and so on. But also encompassing a number of the criteria in this list: Responsive; efficient; safe; healthy to name some.

A key feature of a school and indeed higher education environment is that it is inclusive, it allows education for all.

Change is ubiquitous. The learning environment should be able to respond to both current and future needs. Be able to change both in the short term (flexibility) and the long term (adaptability).

Flexibility is a term often used to describe short-term change, but flexibility or if you prefer the ability to reconfigure the pieces is not enough on its own. Not only must it be easy to do, but it must also be easy to do quickly otherwise people will not take advantage of it. So this concept includes flexibility which may be a necessary condition but not a sufficient one.

Students and teachers should be and feel safe whether it is from some form of structural failure where the building collapses, or from being threatened or bullied by others. Buildings can more obviously directly impact on the former. But good design can go a long way to help the latter. For example, the way that the toilets and hand washing areas are designed can impact directly on whether bullying takes place. Student safety can directly impact on both cognitive and non-cognitive performance.

Healthy and comfortable:
To an extent comfort is a perceptual quality, although there are very real effects on performance from temperature; air-quality – for example CO2, but also air pollution; light – too much and too little can be a problem, as well as glare; sound – the acoustic environment; and furniture – often forgotten.

Technologically enabled:
Enables connection to the outside world through the internet and or 4g mobile connections.

Data rich:
Provides feedback on the quality of the environment through data on the performance of the systems for example such as on the comfort indicators above – temperature and air-quality. Very often buildings do not do this, yet it can be done very simply. An example is Stephen Heppell’s project ….

The building should be seen as supportive of the activities and users and therefore responsive, rather than driving what people do. Supports education, not drive it. But of course, the building can itself be an educative tool.

Here is a summary table:

Sufficient: Meets minimum standards
Effective: Usable
Efficient: Maximises gain, minimises cost
Sustainable: Touching the earth lightly
Inclusive: Education for all Accessible to all
Responsive: Responds to current and future needs
Agile: Easy & quick to reconfigure space and technology
Safe: Students (and teachers) feel safe
Healthy and Comfortable: Temperature; air quality; light; sound; furniture
Technologically enabled: Connectivity
Data rich: Information on the environment
Supportive: Supports students and teachers


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