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Five characteristics of a highly effective learning environment

Choosing a school can be a challenge as it may be difficult to guarantee you’ve selected one that can provide the education your child needs to excel.

Not only should the chosen educational facility have a modern, 21st-century approach to learning, a state-of-the-art curriculum that provides world-class education in all necessary academic streams for future success, and exceptional teaching staff, the learning environment itself must provide adequate space for learning.

But what exactly makes a highly productive learning environment? Below, we explore five characteristics which help guarantee an excellent educational facility.

1. Flexibility

The ability of spaces to expand, grow, and change into what teachers and students need is a hallmark of an effective learning environment.

The International School of Beijing (ISB), for example, encourages student learning by giving them choices. By literally taking the walls down in classrooms, teachers and students have options on how they can learn best.

In addition to moveable walls, ISB also offers multiple seating options in various locations throughout the school; such as moveable desks and couches. This gives students the ability to make their own decisions on their ideal work environment, effectively benefiting their education.

With a flexible working environment, teachers may choose to collaborate with nearby classes discussing similar topics as part of their interdisciplinary approach, or they may decide to split a larger class into smaller groups to provide more focus.

ISB's new Flex Space has the perfect balance of flexibility, openness, and adaptability.

“It's proven that interdisciplinary work is more profound because students can see the links between what they're learning. When students are choosing their path and deciding what they study, they are more engaged. And when we have more flexible space for projects, we start to see those things take action," said David Munro, ISB High School Principal at the time the facilities were developed.

2. Openness

Imagine walking into a large, open space with floor-to-ceiling windows. The light is shining in onto the indoor greenery; there are chairs and tables set up all around the room thoughtfully designed to encourage and inspire learning. You can sit and practice an instrument, or read a book, or sketch an idea for a new robotics project.

Research has shown that students perform better in classrooms with more natural light, with one study finding that utilizing more natural light improved student learning rates by up to 26 percent.

Using furniture and walls that can be moved to create fresh learning environments has also been found to improve student performance.

At ISB, for example, facility designers made sure to include modern design elements like transparent glass, moveable walls, and flexible open spaces in the development of new buildings.

3. Easy access to resources

A great way to ensure success is to make sure students have the tools they need to learn. It’s a little challenging to become an expert at the clarinet when all you have is a recorder, or to research a topic when you don’t have access to well-resourced libraries or the internet.

A 21st-century classroom should be filled with everything a student could need to inspire and instill a passion for learning.

At ISB, the facilities reflect this. From the latest technology throughout campus, to design labs and maker spaces, dedicated elementary and middle/high school libraries, to state-of-the-art athletics facilities and professional acoustics put into music practice rooms, the campus inspires a lifelong love of learning.

4. Tailored to specific age groups

A PreK student’s learning needs compared to a middle school student's are entirely different. Besides the physical space, the tools and resources that these two age groups need are specific to their development, which makes tailored learning spaces for specific age groups that more important.

For example, when ISB’s new Early Years Learning Center opens, young students will have access to play-based learning tools, which research shows aids in inspiring inquisitiveness in developing minds. The center will have indoor/outdoor learning spaces, which are great tools ISB has integrated into the curriculum, as the two environments bring different benefits to the student.

As students age, they will progress to spaces like the Performing Arts Center and Art and Design Center. The newly built or remodeled buildings at ISB were designed to be the most effective learning spaces for students at each stage of learning. Learn more about the characteristics of a positive learning environment and how ISB supports student learning here.

5. Design based on research

When it comes to something as important as student education, there is no room for guessing. Research-based design is crucial to designing effective learning spaces for students of all ages.

For example, ISB’s decision to move forward with the new buildings as part of its Facilities Master Plan (FMP) came about with the help of extensive research in order to provide the most effective learning environments for students.

A collaborative approach was essential to ensuring the best results. Twenty members of the ISB community came together including parents, staff, and administrators, who then worked closely alongside a team of architects with expertise in the education field.

The new learning spaces are purposefully built to be effective in providing the educational results ISB’s extensive curriculum demands, from the immobile classrooms to the open flex spaces.

Now that you’ve learned five characteristics of a highly effective learning environment, would you like to learn more? Click here to discover six characteristics of an innovative school campus and how they help student learning.

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ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.

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Experiential Learning