Predictions & Trends

Spaces4Learning 2024 Predictions for Educational Facilities: Part 3

We asked our readership to send us their predictions for 2024 trends in educational facilities. Across K–12 and higher-education campuses both, we asked for opinions on topics like technology, flexible learning spaces, campus safety & security, disaster response, and more. This article is the third in a three-part series compiling responses from educational professionals and vendors.

“We live, teach, and learn in a world that is continually redefining traditional spaces. A one-size-fits-all approach to classroom setup and furniture might have worked well 50 years ago, but today’s students and teachers have more resources available than ever before. Schools are discovering the value of collaborative, active learning setups made possible with flexible classroom furniture. And we are only at the beginning of this journey—how will these new approaches to teaching and learning continue to influence how and where learning takes place? As manufacturers, we have the responsibility not only to design and create furniture that anticipates the needs of the changing classroom, but also that we invest time in helping teachers connect the dots between their physical learning space and their vision of student success. In my interactions with schools who are moving toward flexible learning spaces, I’ve seen that true success comes when teachers and students embrace the change and make it their own.”
Patricia Cadigan, M.Ed., ALEP; Vice President of Learning Environments; Artcobell

“To ensure we’re helping students develop socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively, we need to re-think learning environments as student-centered ecosystems. This approach to classroom layout ensures students can confidently say the following:

‘I’m inspired.’
‘I’m secure.’
‘I belong.’

“As educators, parents, and furniture experts, we have an obligation (and a privilege) to use this shift in education to better students’ learning experiences. To do this, we must be open to change, observe trends and patterns, learn from research and best practices, and be forward thinkers.

“By designing today’s (and tomorrow’s) learning spaces with flexible classroom furniture, we give students the choices they need. Thoughtful furniture design, selection, and layout have the power to encourage movement and active learning, create comfort & ease of learning, and decrease disruptive student behavior, as well as support teachers’ ability to effectively manage their classrooms.”
Patricia Cadigan, M.Ed., ALEP; Vice President of Learning Environments; Artcobell

“In the education environment, one of the most important factors to consider is acoustics, which can be multi-faceted. There is a lot of extraneous noise. Students are moving through hallways as classes are changing with the shuffling of feet and the slamming of locker doors—a cacophony of sound that becomes a dull roar. Then, in the classroom, reverberation plays a part in the intelligibility of speech of the instructor for the students. Being able to absorb sound and limit the overall background noise makes the students’ surroundings less distracting and allows the instructor to more effectively communicate. There will only be more concerted efforts in the very near future for decision-makers to select products that minimize disruption.”
Brandon Kersey; Director, Business Development; Engineered Floors Commercial Division (J+J Flooring & EF Contract)

“In terms of design, we predict that schools and other learning environments will continue to move towards less sterile, less institutional interiors, adding more warmth, comfort and familiarity for end-users. This has led to learning spaces with a more sophisticated feel that, at the same time, have their own identity—especially in K-12. This identity can play out in overall color and branding, and in some schools, at the grade level, where color and pattern are used to differentiate accordingly.

“Spaces are going to be more open. We also see that the de-structuring of a space for enhanced flexibility is becoming more apparent in the classroom, and we predict this will only continue. This less formal and less structured arrangement helps foster an environment where students feel more collaborative. We are seeing more and more how finishes like flooring can be used for creating and designating informal, collaborative, and interactive learning environments while also conveying comfort and warmth. In these spaces, students feel more relaxed and comfortable—more at home.

“Historically, there’s been a bit of a pendulum swing in education when it comes to various finishes and flooring choices. Sometimes, trends go too far in one direction. Facility managers may realize that in fixing one problem in one area, it created or brought to light a different problem. In the education segment, there’s always a constant adjustment and recalibration taking place to ensure the right choices are being made for the management of the facility.

“It’s crucial that you are able to address different challenges when considering various finishes to optimize benefits and mitigate disadvantages. In a media center, for example, you may want low rolling resistance for heavy carts, so you look at hard surface. However, then you have issues with acoustics and comfort. Carpet can address those two needs, but in some cases may produce excessive rolling resistance. In working to solve the problem, you’ve created another. Facility managers will continue to closely scrutinize their options so that they are able to choose products that can address their full breadth of needs, including comfort, acoustics and rolling resistance.”
Brandon Kersey; Director, Business Development; Engineered Floors Commercial Division (J+J Flooring & EF Contract)

“We have seen a significant reduction in high-maintenance product specifications that, while inexpensive on the front end, require a high degree of ongoing maintenance over time. This is only going to become more important as the ease in keeping the product looking better longer between cleanings and regular maintenance is paramount. Ongoing maintenance is an important component in the longevity of product lifecycles, and smart specifications that align with the streamlining of these processes and procedures will be front of mind to stretch dollars. Additionally, there are still overall concerns related to the global labor shortage and its impact on the functions of different roles and duties in the school environment and beyond. Specifiers will still need products that can perform with less attention and care, should that be the circumstance.”
Brandon Kersey; Director, Business Development; Engineered Floors Commercial Division (J+J Flooring & EF Contract)

“Sustainability in the school environment and in finishes specifically has become such a broad category since an initial focus on just recycled content. There are other factors we are seeing coming into play, and it’s only going to become more important in learning spaces. For instance, we are looking more at the energy efficiency within a building and the effects that different facets of the built environment have on this measurable phenomenon. Finishes like flooring can easily have a bearing, whether it’s the more obvious insulative properties or the comfort levels of space occupants that may necessitate adjustments in climate control.

“Sustainability’s interconnectivity with facility maintenance is only going to grow more prominent as well. The amount of electricity, water and overall energy it takes to maintain a building will continue to be an important consideration.”
Brandon Kersey; Director, Business Development; Engineered Floors Commercial Division (J+J Flooring & EF Contract)

“We will continue to expand on how we define and address flexibility in design. There is a point where efforts to make a space work for everything can result in a space that doesn’t work well for anything. Running a design through the multitude of use scenarios can help mitigate potential inefficiencies between moveable furniture and fixed infrastructure, such as power. Additionally, as we continue to learn more about neurodiversity, we are thinking beyond how spaces can be reconfigured to serve different functions at different times and more towards how spaces can support a multitude of learners at the same time.”
Gail Wozniak, NCIDQ, LEED AP; Associate; SCB

“We know that we are going to have to continue to move the needle when it comes to sustainable design. We can’t ignore the fact that in the United States the built environment consumes 40% of the total energy produced nationally. Whereas innovation and technological advances in building systems and materials will certainly be part of the solution, I think that there is a lot to be gained by getting back to the elements of good design and really harnessing all the opportunities a site can offer. How are we siting and massing our buildings? How are we mitigating solar exposure while optimizing daylighting? Are there opportunities for us to take advantage of fresh air and wind? Often these seemingly basic decisions made early on in the design process can have much more of an impact on the overall performance of a building throughout its life.”
Monica Willemsen, AIA, LEED AP; Associate Principal; SCB