Designing the Classroom of the 21st Century

Classrooms of the 21st century need to be much more flexible in design and efficiency than the traditional K-12 classrooms of the past or present. Concepts like visualization space, fabrication space and presentation space demand a total reengineering of traditional ideas.

Over the past several decades, we’ve observed the “Millennial Generation” and “Gen X.” This author refers to the up and coming generation of students as “DG,” the Distracted Generation. From birth onward, these children have experienced almost continuous audio and visual stimulus. This is the generation that has been strapped into the back seat of the minivan with a Disney movie playing during the 15 minute drive to daycare. This is the generation that watches TV programs, movies and commercials that are edited to add a new camera angle every 1.9 seconds on average. The effect that these continual distractions are having on today’s students is significant. Ask a 13-year-old to sit still and watch a classic Alfred Hitchcock mystery from the 1960’s and you will see significant evidence for the Distracted Generation. According to a recent study from the Pew Institute of Research, this is the generation that sends or receives an average of 60 text messages per day (in addition to many tweets on Twitter and texted conversations on Facebook). In addition, the effect of electronics taking the place of siblings, friends and parents makes today’s Distracted Generation more likely to exhibit characteristics consistent with ADD and ADHD. As designers and educators, this is what we are competing with when we consider how to improve the classroom of the 21st century.

The purpose of this article is not to focus on all of the labels, but rather to admit that educational institutions must fully understand their target audience. We must realize that our children are consumers and like all consumers, they have more choices than ever to tune out or simply not be engaged in what is going on in the classroom.

Let’s take a look at 5 ways how we, as designers and educators, can help limit distractions and facilitate learning in the classroom:


  • Flexible and Efficient Workspace
  • Smart Teacher Space
  • Collaborative Student Space
  • Proper Lighting
  • Proper HVAC


Flexible & Efficient Workspace

For many years, schools, churches and other  智慧校園 communal workspaces have all utilized flexible demising walls, like accordion partitions. These movable partitions allow instructors to increase and redefine their classroom space as needed. Such flexibility makes great sense. Even without a movable demising wall, a larger rectangular space can be easily divided with a rolling acoustical wall. Similar portable partitions can often be found in cubicle furniture systems that include partitions upholstered with acoustically dampening material. In the classroom, these portable partitions can be used to surround a small study group that can be easily expanded for special presentations. Students and teachers alike report that they enjoy utilizing these partitions and that it is somewhat like “building a fort” in the middle of the classroom. A little fun in school is a good thing as long as it does not compete with the day’s lesson.

Elementary classrooms typically have one door located near the teacher’s desk so that students can be closely monitored as they desire to enter and exit the classroom. This makes good sense with young children, but for middle schools and beyond, it may make more sense to incorporate entrances and exits at the rear of the space to create fewer disruptions during lectures. This design element has been used successfully in college classrooms for generations.