Preparing Expert Learners

Learning is a skillset. A love for learning can be developed and nurtured, giving students the tools for lifelong growth and adaptation.

The future job market will be much different than today, with automation and technology used for many jobs that humans can’t do. Students need to be prepared to continue to learn and evolve their skills long after they leave school.

“There are careers that don’t exist yet, and students will have multiple careers in their lifetime,” says LPA Director of K-12 Planning Mariana Lavezzo. “We need the built environment to remove any barriers to learning and help students find how they learn best, so they become experts at learning and enjoy it.”

Studies point to several areas where learning environments can play a direct role in cultivating expert learners. Thoughtful design can support the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and educators’ efforts to expose students to different ways of learning. The built environment can bolster hands-on experiences, encourage experimentation and offer students real-world scenarios that will cultivate different types of learning skills.

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Providing options allows students to seek out comfortable spaces that help them to remain focused.

The process starts with understanding how the brain works and retains new information. The brain learns best when it is calm and not distracted or stressed, allowing the reflective and cognitive brain to think, process and learn. An environment needs to communicate safety and comfort to learners, to avoid activating the fight-or-flight response that happens when we feel unsafe, uncomfortable or out of place.

“With the reactive brain in check, educators can shift attention to pique students’ interests, maintain engagement and encourage deeper learning, creativity and innovation,” says LPA Research Analyst Rachel Nasland.

To reach learning goals, we need to think about designing space from a student’s perspective. A welcoming environment scaled to early learners helps to develop their sense of belonging. Not all students learn the same; student agency can help them author their own level of engagement to maintain a sense of safety. Providing options allows students to seek out a comfortable space that allows them to remain focused. On a broader scale, the school’s built environment can contribute to the development of a student’s identity as a learner and a member of a learning community.

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Environments for play and exploration foster the idea that learning can happen anywhere.

When a learning environment reflects the students, they are better able to engage in the learning process. Engaging spaces facilitate a range of opportunities for experimentation, creativity and innovation. The space should reflect and support learning as a process, rather than a destination. Ecosystems can encourage play and exploration, fostering the idea that learning can happen anywhere.

Participatory experiences change the way the brain works and can accelerate kids’ learning process. Research shows that students are more engaged in their learning when they are actively moving and interacting with their surroundings. The environment’s ability to support this type of hands-on experience will sustain students’ engagement for longer periods than traditional methods of passive learning.

“It’s really about developing an openness to learning versus developing a singular skill,” Nasland says. “Giving students the opportunity to tinker, explore and figure things out through their own trial and error allows them to discover the learning method best for them.”