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28th February 2017
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28th February 2017

Classroom Design

How to stimulate millennial learners

the Teacher reporter

Designing physical learning spaces is vital as it can impact learners’ positive behaviour and promote their active participation and engagement

Deciding which strategies to deploy in the classroom remains one of the daunting tasks teachers face all the time. It is no longer about using the same teaching technique to fit all the situations – today’s teacher has to be creative and dynamic. Studies recommend teaching styles that suit a “millennial” learner who performs and responds well to a stimulating and collaborative learning environment.

Steel Education, “a dedicated group within the Steelcase that is exclusively focused on education”, recently conducted a research on classroom space optimisation. It highlighted this as a critical area that is often overlooked even though there is evidence it can influence learners’ “positive behavioural patterns” in the classroom. According to the research “static, lecture mode type of teaching is no longer adequate”; instead consideration should be given to how the physical learning area is designed as this can act as either a “support or a barrier”. The research recommends “constructivist” approach to enable teachers to engage effectively with learners.

It also stressed the significance of the “configuration of the physical learning space” and that this can be used as a “strategic asset” to make learning enjoyable to learners. To ensure the learning space is dynamic and also cater for a more fluid yet collaborative and engaging environment, teachers need to employ “varied teaching strategies”. The research identified three vital aspects: pedagogy, technology and space, to help teachers design a classroom that promotes positive learner engagement.


  • Set expectations for what an engaged learning environment looks like; learning is messy, things move and conversations can get loud.
  • Design for quick transitions among multiple teaching modes such as lecture, team, project, discussion, to mention a few, to allow for a move from passive to active engagement and back again.
  • Design for peer-to-peer learning in order to improve memory retention and understanding.
  • Allow freedom of movement for the instructor. Move away from the concept of the instructors’ space being fixed to the top of the class. Enable the instructor to visit groups during group work to act as a mentor or offer quick assessment.


  • Design for both analogue and digital content co-creation and sharing by taking advantage of all spaces for display (horizontal and vertical surfaces, projectors, interactive surfaces). It has been established that when learners can make their thinking visible, collaboration becomes easier to accomplish. In the past we would have seen this in the format of flip boards or situations where learners would huddle around one piece of paper trying to share content with one another.
  • Explore new media, including personal and in-room technology while considering access to both.
  • Use new technology in intended ways not just technology for technology’s sake.
  • Allow for displayed information to be persistent over time and also consider ways for the whole class to capture information.


  • Give every learner the best seat in the classroom by ensuring visual assess to content and support physical comfort.
  • Design for quick ownership change so that classrooms adapt to changing users and varying class requirements.
  • Flexibility is crucial; design for quick configuration among multiple modes, from project work to presenting to test taking.
  • Consider wall protection for table and chair movement.
  • Design to support the learner-to-learner and learner-to-class transitional activities that occur before and after class.
  • Today’s learners are design savvy. Hard-working and beautiful spaces will help attract and retain learners.
  • It takes more square metres to be active.

According to the research, it is important for teachers to remember that “active learning environment” not only increases learner engagement but also enables deeper learning. The three basic areas (pedagogy, technology and space), according to the research, “must all intersect in order to make a significant contribution to the education process”.

As a teacher you should not “let the allure of technology overwhelm your space or allow practices that are most comfortable with you to stop you from trying a new style. Make space work for you through intentional planning and design”, concluded the report.

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