Schools in Focus Podcast
Featuring Sue Ann Highland
PODCAST: Creating More Dynamic Learning Environments
Dynamic learning environments are more active and engaging for students than the traditional, factory-era model in which students sit facing the front of the classroom while the teacher speaks. They are more likely to help students learn key 21st-century skills that are necessary for success in the workplace today, such as communication, collaboration, innovation, critical thinking, and creativity—and they can lead to better academic outcomes as well.
What is Dynamic Learning?
Kasey Bell, a former middle school teacher who is now an award-winning international speaker, author, blogger, podcaster, and digital learning coach, defines dynamic learning as “learning characterized by constant change, activity, and progress.” Unlike static learning, which lacks movement, action, or change and is exemplified by worksheets and other “one-and-done” types of learning activities, dynamic learning “takes place organically,” Bell writes. It grows, evolves, and inspires students throughout the year, with students “collaborating, creating, and communicating to demonstrate progress and mastery.”
“With digital tools that are available 24/7, the learning doesn’t have to stop when the bell rings, when the worksheet is turned in, or even when the school year ends,” she writes. “Learning can take on a life of its own and become dynamic.”¹ To support dynamic learning, Bell observes, educators must think…
- Beyond the bell by fostering a mindset of lifelong learning for students. Learning shouldn’t end when the bell rings, she notes; instead, students should continue to learn, collaborate, and grow on their own outside of school.
- Beyond the grade level and subject area by helping students tap into passions and interests that are outside the required curriculum.
- Beyond the classroom walls by connecting students with the larger world around them. For instance, students should connect and collaborate with peers and subject matter experts from around the world, and they should share and publish their work for a global audience.
- Beyond the tools by leveraging technology to do more than just complete traditional tasks. Instead, students should use digital tools to transform their learning and take it to a deeper level.
- Beyond the due date by encouraging students to continue their work even after a project has been assessed. Thinking, learning, and exploring shouldn’t come to a halt, Bell says, just because an assignment has been turned in.
Why the Learning Environment Matters — And Keys to Success
Dynamic learning is active, engaging, and student-driven. It is often framed around open-ended tasks and projects that have practical, real-world applications and are relevant to students’ lives.
To facilitate this kind of learning, teachers and students need the right kind of physical environment. For instance, it’s hard for students to work together on projects when seated at individual desks facing the front of the classroom.
This isn’t just common sense. It’s supported by research that establishes a clear connection between the design of the learning environment and the type of learning that occurs there. A study at the University of Minnesota found that classrooms designed to facilitate active learning led to more collaborative group work and less lecturing, even among courses taught by the same instructor using the same methods and materials.²
The Six Instructional and Design Elements Support Dynamic Learning
One way to support dynamic learning is to create various “learning zones” or separate areas to accommodate different kinds of activities. For instance, a learning space could have one area that’s used for small-group collaboration, with tables that can support from two to five students. Another section could be a quiet, reflective place for students to read or work individually, with soft, comfortable seating. A third section might be a dedicated makerspace with tables that contain built-in storage for supplies and materials. Each zone would be equipped with furniture and materials that are appropriate for that particular kind of learning.
Giving students choices in where to sit, and encouraging them to move around and sit in different places as they work on various tasks, allows them to sit where they feel most comfortable and can best complete the task at hand. It also helps them take ownership of their learning, which is an important engagement strategy.
If an office employee is working on a project and needs to discuss it with a colleague, the pair might move to a conference room with a large table and whiteboard space for brainstorming. If an employee is doing research, they might look for a cozy spot to settle in and read. It’s the same idea for students. With flexible seating, they can choose the best learning zone and type of seating to support their individual preferences and the type of activity they are working on.
For flexible seating to work, students need choices in where to sit and work, such as traditional or standing desks, stools that rock back and forth, and beanbag chairs or other comfortable seating options. In addition, teachers need to establish some basic ground rules. Here is some advice on how to approach flexible seating successfully in the classroom.
Furniture that can be moved around easily and configured in multiple ways makes it simpler for students to engage in various types of learning activities—allowing them to create, collaborate, share, reflect, or learn individually, in small groups, or as an entire class as desired.
For example, the NeoMove 2 Chair from Classroom Select is perfect for transitioning quickly from whole-group learning to small-group collaboration or independent study. Its durable casters allow for smooth movement and rotation, and an open-access base allows for generous bottom storage—including a water bottle holder. A unique tablet arm swivels to accommodate both left- and right-handed students.
This Contemporary Collaboration Desk is an adjustable-height desk on casters, making it very easy to move around the room—and its octagonal shape allows for multiple configurations. The SimpleStack Desk is lightweight and can be easily stacked out of the way to create extra floor space. The NeoSync device creates an instant, ergonomic workspace out of any chair just by placing it on the chair’s surface.
By providing environments that are comfortable and flexible, students become more ready to learn. Students need to feel comfortable and welcome in their environment to feel they are ready to learn. When they are ready and prepared for learning, they are more invested in their learning. This investment allows them to be more highly engaged with their teacher, the content, and other students. Human connection is vital to higher achievement.
Think holistically about the environment. Focus not just on the design of classrooms, but also hallways, cafeterias, media centers, outdoor spaces, and other common areas in schools. One of the central concepts of dynamic learning is that it takes place any time, anywhere, with learning occurring naturally outside of class. With careful planning, K-12 leaders can make effective use of shared spaces throughout their buildings to support high-quality learning beyond the classroom.
To support anytime, anywhere learning and connectivity, students need readily available power sources and WiFi access throughout the building. Nothing stops digital learning faster than a dead battery. To prevent disruption to learning, consider buying furniture with built-in power supplies and ports for connecting peripheral devices. You can also add charging capabilities to any tabletop surface with the Clamp Mount Power Accessory from Classroom Select. This simple device includes two AC power outlets and two USB ports, and it adjusts to fit tabletops up to one and a half inches thick.
Bring Learning to Life
Dynamic learning is just as it sounds: more engaging and active, bringing learning to life. To support this type of instruction, students need the right kind of learning environment. By following this advice, you can create highly effective dynamic learning environments that lead to better student outcomes.
To learn how School Specialty’s Projects By Design division can help you design more dynamic learning environments that effectively support active and engaging learning, call (800) 305-0174, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website today.
1 Bell, Kasey. “Move from a Static Classroom to a Dynamic Classroom.” Shakeup Learning (blog), April 17th, 2017, /shakeuplearning.com/blog/ move-from-a-static-classroom-to-a-dynamic-classroom/
2 Brooks, D. Christopher. “Space and consequences: The impact of different formal learning spaces on instructor and student behavior.” Journal of Learning Spaces [Online], 1.2 (2012): n. pag. Web. 24 Aug. 2021
Explore Flexible Seating Options
Giving students flexible seating options not only gets them moving—it also builds ownership of their education, empowering them to make positive choices for their own learning. When students are comfortable and satisfied, they can stay focused and stay on task. We’ve gathered a collection of innovative seating solutions to help you engage students and facilitate every style of learning.
Dr. Sue Ann Highland
Sue Ann Highland, Ph.D., is the National Education Strategist for School Specialty. She has more than 25 years of experience as an educator, administrator, and consultant with school systems across the United States.
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