Physical Environment & Learning

The environment has been a constant variable throughout my exploration of Learning. To better understand how the environment affects Learning, it will be essential to establish what a good environment equates to. But before that, an in-depth exploration of the current physical school environment will be carried out, to build a good perspective on the current school environment. Also, through this research identity area in need of innovation if we want to provide an optimal learning experience for future students. 

Discussed in an earlier blog "School needs a new definition" we established that in today's society our daily lives are split between online activities and the offline environment. As of November 2020, with the government declaring another month-long lockdown, students will spend a substantial amount of their 2020/21 academic year online. 

Though the online environment is getting a lot of attention at the moment, the physical school is still educations primary learning environment. What are the standards put in place by the government that provides guidelines on the design of a classroom and school structures? If there is a standard what research has gone into these decisions? And finally, is it time for the government to rethink the current standard to create a better learning environment that satisfies the needs of future students? 

As a designer, it is crucial to focus on the needs of the primary stakeholder. In the case of education, the main goal should be optimising how students learn. 

What are the standards put in place by the government?

The current standard that is in place by the government can be seen on the dot Gov website. Having read through the Area guidelines for mainstream school, One of the documents made available on the website providing designer, constructors and different stakeholders guideline on how new schools should be constructed. The current version was published in 2014 and will need updating to tackle all the issues that have arisen with the current pandemic. There'sThere's a need for public buildings to be redesign to combat the spread of germs across students teachers and administrators within the school space. One glaring weakness from the current guideline is the sole focus on the number of students in relation to space. Paring the first document with the Schedule of Accommodation (SOL) tool provides an in-depth schematic of the process that should be adhered to in the construction of new or refurbishment of existing schools. 

Suppose the physical environment has an impact on Learning. Are there any guidelines or organisation examining the school physical environment to make sure they are conducive to learning with the same rigour students are tested? Scientific research on the impact of the environment on Learning should become an essential aspect of the documentation guidelines. "The Well Building Standard - the premier standard for buildings, interior spaces and communities seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness" researched seven concepts that improve the wellbeing of the building and its occupant. Air, Water, Nourishment, Lights, Fitness, Comfort, Mind.

What research has gone into these decisions? 

Architect Peter Barrett who was the lead author in the study conducted by the University of Salford and UK Architect Nightingale Associates found that the built environment has a significant role in how students learn. Holistic assessment of factors such as colour, choice, connection, complexity, flexibility, light with data from students at the start and end of a school year showed a 25% negative or positive influence on academic performance. 

With all this data available to the government, why have they chosen to standardise school structure to look like square boxes? When reading through the Generic Design Brief under Educational Drivers Article, 1.7.7 Health and wellbeing is addressed but very brief—showing a lack of attention from the government on how the factors outlined by the research is being considered. The current specifications aim is to standardised all school structure, so they are cheaper and faster to build. A standardised specification allows schools to can be easily maintained. But the downside being, most schools are similar in shape (a different coloured box shape) and has a 15% reduction in space for secondary schools built after 2013.

What is a good learning environment?

A good practice that can be implemented in schools to help students learn better:

  1. A variety of environment - Classrooms are closed to students unless they have a timetabled session. This prevents free access to explore and learn unassisted, which would be beneficial to students in developing independent learning. The lack of limited space for students to explore freely should be address. 

  2. A community-based project - Schools are built to a guided standard with limited input from the surrounding community, which creates a disconnect between schools and local communities as they don't feel ownership unless their child attends the particular school in question. If schools are to reflect the real world, it will be essential to make sure that schools within each community are actively tackling the problems that reside in that community. Such as keeping schools open for students without adequate learning environment at home.

  3. Biophilic Design - "Applies the principles that humans have an innate attraction to nature and that increasing our connection with natural elements through the spaces in which we inhabit, work or relax, can improve our physiological and psychological health."  

© 2020 Ikenaa

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