Those who’ve seen my presentations about educational holodecks have seen the following picture – a painting of a classroom c. 1350 by Laurentius de Voltolina

Classroom circa 1350

This painting shows an all-too recognizable classroom, complete with students sleeping and others talking while the teacher drones on from the front of the room.  We should be embarrassed to recognize this as a picture of school – it looks all too familiar.  In the intervening centuries, attempts to improve education have largely failed to  address the design of the classroom itself, but have focused instead on the teachers.  While teachers need to be encouraged to move from lectures toward more project-oriented approaches, this is hard to do when our classrooms persist in replicating structures we have known to be failures since the Middle Ages.

Even the addition of some new technologies have been in suppport of this outmoded classroom model.  Consider, for example, the popularity of interactive white boards (IWB’s).  These expensive devices do nothing to change the physical structure of learning and are are tantamount to putting lipstick on a pig.  Instead of just failing to address how children learn, these tools provide a more expensive way to perpetuate an educational model that has failed for hundreds of years.

This said, some people have made great strides to bring education into the 21st century – with the design of new classrooms and schools that break the old mold.  One group of architects that has taken the lead is Fielding Nair, whose work has resulted in some beautiful schools that are not only inviting places, but that meet the real needs of learners and teachers as they transform the process of education.  They have written a wonderful book on the topic (The Language of School Design)  that should be required reading by anyone interested in truly meeting the space needs of today’s learners.

My old ideas about learning spaces (campfires, watering holes, caves and life) have had a receptive audience there, and I am excited to be one of their senior consultants.

In some future blogs I will explore my current thinking about learning spaces, and invite you to join in the discussion.