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Working Smarter: Classroom design ideas that will keep up with the students of the future

Working Smarter

From early-years learning to adult evening sessions, classroom design is crucial for boosting the effectiveness of teaching and absorbing knowledge. Layouts have a measurable effect on behavior and interaction. The availability of tools and equipment directly impact hands-on engagement opportunities for students. Being able to offer various activity zones allows different learning styles to benefit.

Contemporary classrooms haven’t changed all that much in the last few decades. Maybe the old blackboard has been upgraded to whiteboards (or smartboards), and the rows of desks might have been pushed into groups, but most adults still feel familiar with the environment.

With technological development getting faster and faster, things can’t stay this way for long. Pupils are adopting technology younger than ever, so to keep our classrooms engaging and relevant for the modern world, certain elements are going to have to change. To get an idea about how this will manifest in the classroom of the future, author Mike James spent some time with the engineers at BSE3D, who specialize in educational facility design, and carried out the project for Hillingdon Schools to redevelop six schools at five different sites.

“The projects ranged from the construction of a new two-story classroom and staff blocks, to building new kitchens and refurbishing existing spaces. The new facilities will help the Borough to meet the educational needs of its growing population. At each site the works were completed over 2 phases:

Phase 1 consisted of the construction of a new purpose-built building. Each new building was different, and varied dependant on the end use, location and planning constraints. They were designed and built to achieve BREEAM Very Good – achieved via the installation of Photovoltaic panels, energy efficient lighting, green roofs, gas absorption heat-pumps coupled to underfloor heating systems and natural ventilation.

Phase 2 consisted of the refurbishment and extension of the existing school’s accommodation, providing better kitchen facilities, more versatile teaching spaces, installation of a new fire alarm system – and upgrades to the existing emergency lighting & CCTV systems throughout the existing buildings.”


It’s well-documented that different layouts have various effects on student learning. Yet, the majority of classrooms today are still designed and operated with standard tables and chairs, in relatively static formations. This is outdated and – quite rightly – falling out of favor in newly-built education centers.

Instead, classrooms will be designed for flexibility, offering a variety of seating options to accommodate more movement and better focus for those who need it. The option of standing desks will be available, as well as workstations set up for individual study and group projects.

Moving walls, interactive teaching stations and desk-based screens are more likely to be integrated into lessons, allowing a completely adaptable classroom where desks don’t have to be pointed at a fixed board on the wall.

For some classroom setup ideas, take a look at these 20 layouts for different discussion types.

Interactive desks and workstations

Touch-screen technology is already commonplace around the home and in our personal lives – it just hasn’t fully migrated into classrooms, particularly for younger students. This might be partly due to the belief that children’s exposure to screens should be kept to a minimum but, considering how pervasive they are, this is a futile exercise.

Currently, the limited number of devices in any classroom means that they tend to get monopolized by the same students. Incorporating more touch-screen technology points will allow a greater number of students to effectively interact with it, boosting engagement with learning concepts and helping them take charge of their own learning and information access.

Virtual Reality

VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) are quickly finding their feet and it won’t be long until they find their way into classrooms. This offers incredible opportunities for students to see and interact with all kinds of things they might not normally be able to – such as exotic locations around the world, historical events, inside the human body and the far reaches of the galaxy.

This kind of learning will need to integrate handheld devices and, in some cases, headsets. These experiences will no longer be limited to those with expertise in a certain field, or the money to go on holidays abroad – it will be possible for every student to see what they’re learning about for themselves.

On-demand 3D printing

Much like VR and AR, the introduction of 3D printers into classrooms is going to allow teachers to bring theoretical concepts into a physical form. 3D-printing is the quickest and most effective way of explaining complex structures, complementing science, art and design lessons with a model that students can examine for themselves. This will be to the benefit of all students, but particularly kinaesthetic learners.

3D printers can also be used by students to prototype designs and manipulate their own shapes quickly. When it comes to art or engineering, 3D printed models will be able to help students understand how their sketches translate into real life and where practical modifications will need to be made.

Building implications

Of course, all this technology cannot stand alone. Devices require reliable connectivity and charging ports to be useable, meaning that the infrastructure for schools of the future will have to be carefully considered and working with experienced designers and engineers is going to be essential for building spaces that are functional and enjoyable for teachers and pupils.

When every student is sat at an interactive desk, wearing a VR headset or stood by a table-top 3D printer, simply modifying existing classrooms with a few extra extension cables won’t be sufficient. We should be planning today for the generation of tomorrow.

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