Learning Spaces Asia
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Future Generation Learning Spaces

The future is unfolding in real time before us, but technology and globalization are creating change at such a rapid and exponential rate that we have come to accept that we cannot predict what the life in 10 years will be like, let alone what it will be like when people celebrate the dawn of the 22nd century.

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Half of today’s jobs will disappear due to automation and artificial intelligence in the next 15 years, to be replaced by jobs that don’t exist and that are more likely to be in the realm of today’s science fiction. Information is growing exponentially – with the potential to double as frequently as daily. Biotechnology will allow us to live and work longer and sustainable energy and systems will give us the chance to heal and protect our earth. There is the potential for a bright and utopian future if we can adapt to the changes that we are creating for ourselves.

Today’s education and schools were not designed for this reality. In light of this fact, the annual Future Generation Learning Spaces conference in Singapore brought K-12 and university educators and architects together this week to tackle this challenge. Although we can’t predict the future, we do understand the change factors as well as the competencies and skills that today’s kids will need as they enter the workforce in the coming years. Collaboration, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, communication, character, entrepreneurial spirit, as well as digital, global and interpersonal skills are replacing the skills that were needed as recently as 5 years ago. What’s more, memorization and recall of knowledge are being replaced by an expectation of being able to access and use information in novel ways and to develop deep learning in areas of personal interest.

Related: Teacher Reflections on IB and Chinese Schools: Part 1

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The skills that will be used throughout the lives of today’s future generation, are not something learned in a year, they need to be an integral part of their lifelong learning DNA – from early childhood through to university and beyond. This truth requires new approaches to teaching with learning and personalized learning in focus, along with new types of school design. In the last decade, many particularly inspiring schools have been built with open spaces, labs and studios, cafes and big investments in technology. While research into the impact of these new age schools indicates a positive impact on academic learning and 21st century competencies, research and key messages coming out of the conference suggested that although environment impacts and enables learning, the key factor in their success was a clear educational vision and buy-in from teachers and communities for a different kind of learning. In China, we are seeing the same thing starting to occur, new “hardware” – investment in new and impressive buildings, but without the new “software” – the vision, appreciation and ‘personal investment’ in new learning.

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With this challenge very clearly at the forefront of all discussions, we see some very exciting models of successful new ideas set to become the new normal in our schools. Interdisciplinary, collaborative design thinking is recognized as a key area and the new RMIT Design and Technology building gave an insight into how this can be modeled in schools. Collaborative digital learning environments and blended learning are becoming commonplace and Nanyang University showcased its leading solution in this area. And, to prove that we are never too late to learn and change, a 74 year old elementary school Principal from Melbourne showcased how his school is supporting learning by embracing a wide range of the latest technologies to empower kids as young as 5 years old to learn to code and use immersive technologies.

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The Future Generation Learning Spaces conference wasn’t all hi-tech though; there were also clear reminders of the importance of getting kids up close and personal with the natural environment. One such powerful message came from a great presentation of the Outdoor Discovery Center by the Canadian International School of Singapore, which allows early years children to investigate and discover through both built and untouched natural spaces.

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ORIGINS Director, John McBryde has been recognized as a leader in future-oriented learning and leading edge school design for over 15 years. McBryde and the ORIGINS team enjoyed taking part in the Future Generation Learning Spaces conference and have already begun adopting and refining many of the ideas presented. We look forward to continuing to apply such ideas to current and future school designs in China and to providing the very best opportunities for our children to survive and thrive in the coming ‘Age of Innovation’.