White Paper

Best Practices for Creating Modern Learning Environments

Must-haves include professional development and a commitment to personalized learning.
  • January 23, 2018

A modern learning environment requires more than just investments in physical assets. Although the concept of the modern learning environment is still emerging, a consensus is already forming around best practices, which include a commitment to student-centered learning and professional development for educators. 

In CDW’s modern learning environment engagements with numerous school districts across the country, the following best practices have emerged:

Plan Across Silos

The decision-making process leading up to the implementation of the modern learning environment should include not just district leadership and IT teams, but also school leadership teams, teachers, the custodial teams who will care for and maintain the new spaces, and students and parents. 

70%

The portion of students who reported better grades, better attendance or improved creativity in newly designed active learning environments

Source: Mark Fehlandt, Hamline University, “Flexible Classroom Design and Its Effects on Student-Centered Teaching and Learning,” August 2017

Eliminate the Front of the Classroom

One quick way to tell whether modern learning environment improvements will truly transform teaching and learning is to look at the classroom layout. Even when students are sitting in flexible furniture and armed with connected devices, not much is likely to change if they’re all still aimed at the front of the room. Classroom layout can have a huge impact on instruction by simply changing traffic patterns and encouraging teachers to circulate through the room, rather than standing at the front to deliver instruction. 

Make Every Space a Learning Space

By ensuring that common spaces such as hallways, auditoriums and media centers are learning spaces, schools give teachers new ways to encourage collaboration among students, who may feel more relaxed and comfortable in open areas. 

Repurpose Existing Items

Redesigning learning spaces doesn’t have to mean scrapping all of the furniture and technology already in place in a district. If a district finds that interactive whiteboards in its high school classrooms aren’t being used, for example, these displays might be pushed down into classrooms in the lower grades.

Support and Manage Technology

Class time is limited, and when technology doesn’t work or teachers and students can’t connect their devices due to network congestion, they will often quickly give up and revert to traditional methods. Only when access to technology is consistent and predictable will teachers be willing to incorporate digital tools into their planning. Device management is also crucial, as districts must be able to monitor the devices on their network and keep track of the devices they own. Many school districts fund essential networking upgrades through the federal Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, more commonly referred to as E-rate. Often, vendors work with districts to identify products that are eligible for E-rate funding. It’s also important to equip devices with collaboration and productivity tools such as Office 365 or G Suite for Education. Finally, device management is also crucial, as districts must be able to monitor the devices on their network and keep track of the devices they own. Deploying security solutions that protect student endpoints and the IT network are necessary to protect student data and prevent cyberattacks.

Differentiate Spaces

Just as two students might need different interventions to help them succeed, not every classroom is alike. A STEM-focused classroom might require more robust technology and different furniture from an English or history classroom. 

Provide Excellent Professional Development

Teacher buy-in and adoption is perhaps the largest determining factor in the success of a modern learning environment, and effective professional development is key to getting teachers on board. According to the American Federation of Teachers, 71 percent of educators say they face job-related stress due to “the adoption of new initiatives without proper professional development.” Rather than merely offering an introductory session on new technologies, administrators should incorporate modern learning environment improvements into their professional development on an ongoing basis. 

Be Willing to Fail at First

No matter how carefully district leaders plan a modern learning environment initiative, much of the learning will inevitably occur through trial and error — the same way students often must arrive at several wrong answers before discovering the correct one. While district leaders should set themselves up for success with the best practices mentioned above, they should also encourage their teachers to experiment and take chances with their new tools. Even the best modern learning environment implementations won’t be without missteps. True transformations rarely are.


To learn more about technology, flexible furniture and audiovisual tools, download the CDW white paper “A Modern Learning Environment.” 

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