Educators and students everywhere are implementing blended learning — a combination of the best of face-to-face and online experiences to produce improved learning outcomes.

Steelcase’s research reveals what has been both successful and unsuccessful when classrooms suddenly became living rooms and bedrooms. By combining previous research with new findings during the pandemic, they uncovered top insights to create better blended learning experiences.

This research led to five design principles foundational to creating productive, compelling, and safe blended learning environments.

Mindset and preparedness

The first design principle focuses on the psychological impact a physical space can have on successful blended learning. The physical environment can provide cues and indicate preparedness with supportive spaces, technologies, and by reinforcing plans and communication. For example, students who are unable to join class in-person can still be highly engaged with the right space.

Hybrid learning floorplan focusing on mindset
If students are unable to join in person, remote learners have “presence” through wall displays. Ceiling mounted microphones support acoustics.

It’s important to have:

  • A strategic plan and alignment
  • Identified platforms and pedagogies
  • Access and equity for all
  • Support and communication

Social connections

This second design principle speaks to the power of community and collaboration. Learning happens best when people, technology and place are brought together in innovative ways. With the right blended learning environment, students can easily work together regardless of location based on seamless verbal and non-verbal communication.

Hybrid learning floorplan focusing on social connections
Online instruction blends real-time in person learning experiences and virtual team activities.

Blended learning spaces can enhance social connections by:

  • Ensuring engagement with content and visibility on screen or in person
  • Considering sightlines so those on-site can see and be seen by remote participants
  • Being sensitive to presence disparity so remote and on-site participants can contribute equally

Highly flexible

Steelcase’s third design principle emphasizes how important it is for blended learning spaces to easily adapt to change over time. Classrooms and informal spaces must be highly flexible to support new learning behaviors resulting from new technologies. As instruction shifts from lecture to group work ideation, the agility of the environments adapts on the fly.

Hybrid learning floorplan focusing on flexibility
This multipurpose classroom can be used as a dedicated classroom or a shared space, such as an instructional innovation lab.

Spaces should support:

  • New ways of learning like hands-on activities and shifts from one mode of learning to another
  • Modifiability (user-adaptable space) and convertibility (repurposing space like a gym becoming a classroom)
  • Loosening spatial boundaries by valuing “in-between places” outside the classroom for learning

Technology and integration

This design principle highlights the significance of creating spaces with technology in mind. Since technology is key for blended learning environments, there should be a primary focus on supporting a range of displays and whiteboards.

Hybrid learning floorplan that focuses on technology
This lab-style classroom is optimized for technology sharing. Triangulation supports sightlines to digital content and allows eye-to-eye interactions.

Spaces that successfully incorporate technology have:

  • Distributed power throughout the room
  • Designed for video streaming and capture — considering camera angles and multiple displays for content and remote users
  • Supported “pixels and pencils” — digital and analog tools such as whiteboards visualize and share thinking in tandem
  • Considered what’s next — voice interfaces, AI and VR are already being tested to augment learning

Density, geometry, and division

This last design principle can help maintain a socially distant, yet compelling space. Even though blending learning can help reduce density on its own, distancing requirements must still be kept in mind.

Hybrid learning floorplan focusing on geometry, division, and density
Students can select their best place or posture for learning and feel safe with screen to separate each workstation.

It’s necessary to consider:

  • Reducing density by removing chairs or desks and repurposing larger unused spaces like gyms or libraries as classrooms
  • Changing geometry by rotating desks 90-degrees to face in different directions. A checkerboard pattern can create more space around students
  • Adding division with user-configurable screens to offer a barrier and autonomy

What’s next?

Educators and students have participated in a sweeping and sudden shift in the use of technology to support learning. The result — a broadening recognition that a blended learning approach can provide the opportunities and flexibility necessary for the future of education. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, blended learning was a choice. Now, it’s a necessity.

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