Learning Environments for the Future: 4 Tips from Randy Fielding

Wandering the north shore of Long Island as a boy, Randy loved being outside and building things. He wondered why teachers made him sit in rows and told him where to look and when to talk. That made the five-year-old think there might be a better way to learn.

It was the horror of watching aging but vital communities destroyed and suburban malls being erected that peaked Randy Fielding’s interest in architecture—that and an art class that sparked what became a public exhibition. Randy went on to found Fielding Nair International a global leader in designing learning communities. Having designed an innovative portfolio of schools, Fielding developed a set of big ideas about learning spaces. I recently sat down with Randy and recorded a podcast where you can also listen to his experiences and thoughts on learning environments.

Inclusive Listening. Design principle number one for Fielding is listening to the people who will use the spaces and connecting to place and community. An effective discovery and visioning process include walking and talking with students and teachers.

As an example, Randy points to an engagement that exhibited that user-driven commitment, the High School for the Recording Arts in St. Paul. He shared his own creative work with students and then asked what was important to them. The answer was hip-hop and they handed him a series of CDs that they had recorded. While designing their space, Randy listened to their music and dubbed the school Hip-hop Hi. It’s a project-based high school that operates within and around a professional recording studio.

Vistas. Eyes and brains need a periodic change of scenery, a change in focal length of at least 50 feet away. For the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in Alberta, Fielding framed a view of the foothills from most of the learning spaces (see video).

Learning Communities. Many teams describe the desire to learn in community. Fielding Nair designs flexible spaces that often include 3-5 teachers and about 100 students. Collaborative learning environments include large and small spaces, small “nest-like” spaces, and active, wet and messy lab-like spaces with a variety of seating options.

Pilots. To help communities experience these new spaces, Fielding Nair often helps clients develop pilot learning communities, achieved through low-cost renovations, modeling the new learning environment.

One example is the Pathfinder Spaces at the Singapore American School—the best facilities action research project we’ve seen because it both illustrates and investigates the future state. It’s not just about facilities and furniture, it allows teachers to test new learning models and collaboration strategies.

Fielding said for projects that make take a few years to gain approval and a few more to be built, Pathfinder Spaces help bridge leadership transitions and build the case for change.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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