The Global Challenge

Moving the Learning Environment Beyond the Four Walls

Trends in Education


On a recent, rather lengthy car trip with my family, I noted that, while my generation would have read a book or played the license plate game, my kids were surfing the Internet and watching YouTube videos. My heavy contemplation of the financial benefit the cellular company was reaping was easily broken by the information my kids started to share with me. Far beyond anything to which I, as a 13-year-old, could have accessed, global experiences were streaming into our vehicle.

It struck me that technology has enabled an ease of connection with the world at large and created a generation that will not see the world as we did. Through the simple touch of a screen, our children become active members of the global society, whether sitting in an environment created for learning, or engaged in moments of leisure. With this realization comes the understanding that our next generation of learners has a particular advantage. As with each generation, we are given unique tools that provide us with opportunities beyond that experienced by each prior generation. But this group, my children, have the tools granting them the ability to be the mold breakers for global learning environments.

This recognition triggered a series of thoughts and concerns. What are the implications of this worldly exposure? How will our children learn differently? How will they experience relationships differently? Can we guide global exposure that is positive and beneficial? And how do we help them to express themselves to other cultures in ways that are well received?

The benefits of our world connectivity are tremendous. We can embrace opportunities for students to virtually participate in and engage with other cultures. We can negate cost-prohibitive travel expenses via technological connections.

Public education, always the Great Equalizer, grants educators in every socioeconomic situation the opportunity to provide the same level of connectivity to the global experience for all children.

While differing cultural norms and traditions and languages may present challenges currently, we can expect that as communication on the global stage becomes a new norm, barriers will be minimized or eliminated completely.

The design world is responding to the wonderful new opportunities being presented. Technology connections, wireless technologies and distance learning tools are only the first steps. Spaces to make and technologies in the learning environment that free the child from the walls surrounding the space in which they sit are becoming standard.

And the walls that do exist in the learning environment are becoming non-static elements that provide for different levels of projection on all surfaces. Higher education and corporate environments are experimenting with three-dimensional projection that allows us to “meet face-to-face” with someone on another continent, without leaving the room. Virtual reality glasses and other projection devices are no longer just the stuff of which movies are made.

In the year 2017, we must focus on how we take the global learning environment to all learners. Exploring ways to instruct, guide and lead in this evolving climate will be challenging and exciting. As planners and designers, we must collectively re-evaluate what the learning environment is, and how it can support the new methods of global learning offered through technology. By meeting these changing and shifting needs and demands, we can seize a golden opportunity to expand the learning environment far beyond its four walls and deliver the whole world to our kids.

About the Author

David Schrader, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Association for Learning Environments, is the managing partner of SCHRADERGROUP architects in Philadelphia, PA. He may be reached at [email protected].