The Shift to High-impact Learning Environments

It’s the first day of school. Students have the option to choose between two classroom environments.

The first classroom has all the desks facing the front of the room where there is whiteboard and a projection screen. The layout in this learning environment would lead one to believe that lecture is the primary mode of instruction. Students have just entered a traditional classroom.

The second classroom is arranged with an array of seating options, one-one technology and wall mounted, glass marker boards around the perimeter of the room. This layout reflects a 21st Century Classroom, or more accurately a High-impact Learning Environment™ with flexible furniture, writing surfaces and technology that will support instructors while engaging students in shared learning activities.

It’s not hard to see that the second classroom environment would be the popular choice.  The evolved 21st Century Classroom should provide a High-impact Learning Environment™ where students develop foundational soft skills and teachers can become the activators of their student’s learning.

Moving away from Traditional Classrooms

In fairness, the traditional classroom layout can be practical. Lessons that use projectors, slides or whiteboards are easier to teach when all the desks are facing the front of the room. This layout is effective for the traditional instructional delivery method because it encourages focus on the teacher and the lesson. But are students in this setting retaining content and developing a real passion for learning?

A study from the National Training Laboratories found that only about 5 percent of the information delivered through lecture was retained. Compare that with retention rates at 50 percent for discussion group and 70 percent for practice by doing. Even higher, at 90 percent, was retention by students teaching others.

The shift to a High-impact Learning Environment™

The study done by the National Training Laboratories provides evidence that the more active the teaching and learning methods, the higher the retention rates.

High-impact Learning Environments™ incorporate five key components when planning for an active, thriving classroom.

1) Integrated Technology

The integration of technology into the educational environment is more involved than placing computers in a classroom. Technology usage is ubiquitous amongst today’s digital learners. Designing environments that support and enhance the use of technology as part of the learning process is critical to increasing student engagement and encouraging students to take ownership over their learning.



2) Learner Mobility

Today’s learner is mobile. Effective use of mobile technologies allows for an ideal connection between learning environments, where both educators and students can access a multitude of resources to support learning across time and setting.



3) Adaptability

The classroom layout is likely to change as often as education changes. Therefore, the design of a space must support current educational delivery methods with an eye to the future. Adaptability in the classroom allows educators to model a different approach to learning and take advantage of learning opportunities that aren’t always planned.



4) Multiple Modalities

A High-impact Learning Environment™ is designed so that differential instruction may take place with ease. This means creating spaces, configurations and flexibility to support a variety of learning strengths and styles. All kids are different, and the design of a high impact learning environment should reflect this idea.



5) Dynamic Ergonomics

Studies show that between the ages of 5 and 16 a child will spend approximately 15,000 hours sitting down, and more than 60 percent of students will have complained of back or neck problems by the time they leave school. Humans are made to move and an active learning environment stimulates cognitive development.


Modern Day, 21st Century Classrooms

The 21st Century Classroom focuses on student-centered learning. Students who walk into a High-impact Learning Environment™ on the first day of school will be walking into a classroom that invites them to be an active participant in the learning process, encourages them to leverage technology as part of the learning experience and welcomes them to enter a flexible environment that meets the needs of every student.

Interested in learning more?

Click here to download the MeTEOR Guide to High-impact Learning Environments. This eBook provides in-depth insight into how the learning space either hinders or enhances teaching and learning, as well as the design elements required to create a space that successfully engages every type of learner.

About the Author

Brandon Hillman, ALEP
National Director of Modernization Strategy

Brandon Hillman is a passionate industry thought leader and education advocate with over eight years of experience in creating High-impact Learning Environments. He has been with MeTEOR Education since 2013 and in that time has worked with districts across the country on transforming their learning environments in a planned, progressive, and programmatic manner. Brandon is an Accredited Learning Environment Planner (ALEP). This is the Association for Learning Environment’s (formally CEFPI) most comprehensive professional program in the educational facility industry. It is therefore the top industry standard for all professionals engaged in planning, designing, operating, maintaining, and equipping learning environments at all levels of education. His greatest joy comes from spending time with his wife Meghan, and their two sons: Easton and Jameson.