When we consider the future of our societies, education is paramount. It is the mechanism that shapes the minds that will, in turn, shape our future. The problems we as a society face—from economic stability to healthcare innovations to climate change—will depend on solutions from our educated and informed citizens.
But, the philosophy of education is changing. Earlier models of education placed emphasis on values that were mirrored in society: obedience, respect for authority, discipline, passivity. Twentieth century educational values prioritized compliance and conformity over creativity—essential traits to succeed in corporate environments where lifelong career positions were still possible. These traits were reflected in the work and educational environments: often cold, sparse, clinical, and largely devoid of comfort, workspaces and educational facilities were spaces where humanity seemed unconsidered.
However, the way we work has changed dramatically—and will continue to evolve over the next 20 years and beyond. In place of conformity, a dynamic approach is preferred. As career positions become less prolific, passive employees have been replaced by independent, entrepreneurial thinkers who carve out their own path. Obedience has been challenged by younger generations who are finding new ways to express themselves and contribute to society creatively.
In part, these changes have taken place because of technological advancements. The turn towards robotics and the unfolding Artificial Intelligence revolution will continue to influence the workplace as tasks like data processing and manufacturing become increasingly led by automation. These changes mean new skill acquisition will be a constant demand—time, money, and resources will need to be spent on our own learning to keep up with the changes in technology.
These technology-led changes—and the many more to come—mean that above all, the workplace of the future and the workers therein need to be adaptable. Learning is no longer something completed in a university, but an ongoing necessity to being a contributing citizen. Retraining and reskilling will be a continuing process, especially for mid-career workers who may have grown up in one environment with a certain set of skills or who are moving into new occupations that require further training. Dynamic opportunities mean that more career changes will be possible, allowing people to experience diverse industries and creating more ways to grow and be professionally fulfilled. We are entering the age where learning is not just essential, it is a way of life.
“Lifelong learning must become the norm. Most people who need higher education and postsecondary training are 35, 45, 55.”
James Manyika, Chairman and Director, The McKinsey Global Institute
As our educational and vocational discourse becomes increasingly about technological developments, we will be faced with challenging questions: what makes us special? What differentiates us from technology? With many tasks being completed with automation, where are we needed? As automation and Artificial Intelligence develop, there will be a desire to rediscover what technology cannot do, the things that make us human, and connect with the human experience: the artistic, emotive, artisan, our care, community, and empathy.
In a learning context, this means that human and interpersonal skills are taught with as much urgency as technological and analytical skills. One advocacy group, The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) creates partnerships with educational, governmental, business and community leaders to identify the skills necessary for learners to grow in an ever-evolving world. They have identified four skills as essential for today: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.
We interpret creativity as the ability to think through information in new ways, to make new connections, and to develop innovative solutions to problems. For us, critical thinking involves interrogating what’s given to reach a thorough analysis. Communication is understanding things well enough to share them clearly with others and to engage in the world around us. And, collaboration is about teamwork—the collective genius of a group that’s more than the sum of its parts.
Our world will continue to become increasingly global and networked. Today’s youth will be working and collaborating with students from all over the world as it continues to shrink.The ability to engage with our own humanity, to seek knowledge, to be self-secure, to take initiative and to approach the world with curiosity, generosity and empathy will be imperative for the success of our work and relationships. The key to our future global culture doesn’t lie in our technological ability—it lies in the power of our humanity. And it all starts with education.
“Finally as social animals, we will also increasingly appreciate and value social interactions with other humans. So the most important human traits will be our social and emotional intelligence, as well as our artistic and artisan skills. The irony is that our technological future will not be about our technology but all about our humanity.” – Toby Walsh, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales, Sydney
The more complex the world becomes, the more creative we need to be to meet its challenges—in both the workplace, and in education. We need to create spaces that support and inspire creativity, and reflect the current and future work modalities.
Today, creativity has become an essential indicator of success. With increasing regularity, high-achieving people opt out of traditional full-time jobs and create their own work contexts. Conventional work structures have been dismantled, and in their place, younger generations have a new set of expectations from their work life.
They expect to be able to:
- Live and work anywhere in the world.
- Travel as often as they’d like, for as long as they like.
- Change what they’re working on to keep up with their interests and abilities.
- Enjoy earning potential that’s not capped by a salary figure.
- Work with peers across the globe.
- Outsource things they don’t like doing.
- Choose their own hours and office.
These expectations are an indication of the level of creativity present in contemporary work life. Technology has enabled a greater freedom of where and how we work, with increased mobility and global engagement. We expect the places that we work and learn to mirror how we live and work today.
Progettato da Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaborazione con Gensler in qualità di architetto esecutivo, il Vagelos Education Center all’interno del Columbia University Medical Center di New York è un tipico esempio di spazio flessibile destinato all’apprendimento. I quattordici piani della torre di vetro offrono ambienti per le attività di gruppo, aule tecnologicamente avanzate e un moderno centro di simulazione. Il punto nevralgico dell’edificio è lo “Studio Cascade”: un unico spazio interconnesso che attraversa l’atrio in tutta la sua altezza, per creare un ambiente favorevole alla collaborazione dove gli studenti possono muoversi liberamente e cercare, di volta in volta, gli spazi di lavoro che meglio si adattano alle loro necessità.
Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler as the executive architect, the Vagelos Education Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York typifies the dynamic learning centers of tomorrow. The 14-story glass tower features spaces for collaboration, technologically advanced classrooms and a modern simulation center. The building’s focal point is the “Study Cascade,” a single, interconnected space that traverses the height of the building’s atrium to create a porous environment of collaboration where students can move freely and find space to work that best fits with their individual needs.
Buildings like the Vagelos Education Center underscore the necessity of spaces where freedom to roam and room to collaborate are both possible. The VagelosEducation Center accommodates diverse learning styles, with younger generations’ expectations in mind. Like the Vagelos Education Center, educational spaces of tomorrow need to not just facilitate learning, but to inspire creativity.
“Here, unlike traditional medical education buildings, the goal is not to optimize every square meter of usable space, but rather to contribute to a feeling of wellbeing.” --Diller Scofidio + Renfro
The emotional quality of a space is perhaps nowhere more vital than in the Learning Sector. Feelings of safety and security can affirm students and make them more willing to take on intellectual challenges. Playfulness can inspire creativity. Color can imbue a space with diverse emotional registers.
And, emotion can improve learning. The relationship between the physical environment and student achievement has been studied with consistent results: space design has a provable effect on the learning outcome. Educational spaces that stimulate and inspire both intellectually and through sensory experience have a positive effect on learning retention—some studies even suggest that the aesthetic experience of learning spaces has a greater impact on student achievement than the structural quality of the building.
Just as positive emotions like feeling safe, secure, happy, or inspired can have a positive impact learning, challenging emotions like embarrassment, boredom, or frustration can also have an effect.These challenging emotions send the amygdala into overdrive that can affect memory retention, making it difficult to remember the lessons being taught in that moment. Other environmental factors like poor ventilation, lighting or acoustics can cause students to misinterpret, misunderstand or “tune out” lessons for the day, impacting a student’s overall learning outcome.
Mariale Hardiman, a former teacher and current Assistant Dean of the Urban Schools Partnership at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education thinks that emotion has everything to do with learning outcomes. “Reducing stress and establishing a positive emotional climate in the classroom is arguably the most essential component of teaching,” she affirms.
One building in rural India has taken this advice to heart. Located in the village of Lavale, the Avasara Academy School designed by Case Design in collaboration with visual artist Malene Bach makes use of locally available resources to create a serene environment for the all girls academy. Passive cooling from underground vents creates a moderate temperature without an electric cooling system, even in the heat of India. Intricate bamboo shading creates texture and provides shelter, and the ceiling of each floor is painted in a different pastel hue, lending vibrancy and emotion to the concrete building. These material and color finishes add texture and warmth to create a serene, inviting space to spearhead learning for young women. Case Design said of their color selection: “Color was crucial to give a human scale and inject a sense of life and civility that was previously missing to what otherwise would have been an overbearing rough concrete structure.”
It’s attention like this to the emotional qualities of educational environments that help shape the minds of future generations with comfort, humanity, and proven learning outcomes.
“Learning is serious, but that doesn’t mean it has to be grim!”
Teaching methodologies and environments have become fluid. Teachers are no longer approaching the classroom from podiums or lecterns only. Just as workspaces have evolved to be more responsive, today’s classrooms must be adaptable to different teaching styles and learning needs with less tables, more flexibility, and more social spaces.
A recent study by Mount Royal University shows just how influential student seating can be on the learning process. It found that when problem solving and analysis is approached as a group effort, students internalize the knowledge rather than just memorize it for the exam. More interactivity also helps to build social skills and foster interpersonal dynamics. Teachers, too, report feeling more involved and engaged when seating is oriented towards group discussion—some electing to sit with their students rather than stand during instruction.
Studies like this support a growing idea that modularity in the classroom helps students learn. “Active learning classrooms” place the focus on student-centered learning and can be reprogrammed according to the needs of each instructor to offer opportunities for students to learn in different styles: open spaces to think, indoor or outdoor large group lectures, “campfire” spaces for small group collaborations, and quite, focused, “cove” study areas for independent learning. Flexible learning spaces prepare students for the work spaces of tomorrow: both adaptable and mobile, expansive and singular, quiet and social.