My daughter is a maker. She spends hours tinkering with sewing machines and slime recipes, building salamander habitats and the like. She hangs out with her school friends inside apps that teach math and problem solving through multi-player games. All the while, they are learning to communicate and collaborate in ways that are completely foreign to their grandparent’s generation. She is 10 years old and represents a shift in human cognitive processing brought about by the mastery of technology from a very young age. Her generation and those that come after have never known a time without technology. Personal devices have changed the shared human experience, and there is no turning back.

The spaces in which this new human chooses to occupy must cater to their style of existence. They see every display as interactive and are growing up knowing that the entirety of human knowledge is available to them by simply asking Alexa. The 3D printer is a familiar concept, and space travel for pleasure will be the norm when they have children of their own.

Current trends in active and collaborative learning are evolving alongside these young minds, and when appropriately implemented, enable experiential learning and creative encounters that are changing the very nature of the learning process. Attention to the spaces that will support the educators is also paramount to this success. Lesson plans and teaching style must flip with the classroom. Without the educator and their content, the learning space is just a room.

So in no particular order, here are my Top Eight Trends:

1. Massive Multi-Group Learning Space
The need for large-occupancy classrooms will never disappear. Registrar-driven requirements determine the seat count, but the form factor can morph to meet new challenges. Lecture halls are a drain on floor space and other natural resources. They cannot be reconfigured, and are not regularly used for activities that diverge from their primary design. Dividing large flat spaces with operable partitions allows for varying class sizes, while a raised floor enables periodic reconfigurations, allowing the space to evolve with the pedagogy. Mobile displays and network-based signal transport ensure that the proprietary AV systems of the past are not an anchor that impedes technology upgrades.

2. The Cloud
Decentralized storage and processing have all but eliminated physical media. The recent announcement by Oppo, a manufacturer of high-end 4K Blu-Ray players, to cease production of all DVD and Blu-Ray players proves that physical media is on life support. Adequate wireless network coverage is no longer enough in learning spaces. Streaming video and large file transfers that are a vital part of the collaborative learning experience are taxing current bandwidth limitations. Cisco forecasts that by 2021, 82% of all IP traffic will be streaming video. Network topographies, configurations, and standards need to be implemented that accommodate the ever-growing bandwidth requirements for apps and content living in the cloud.

3. Free-Range Learning
When you provide great learning spaces, students will want to use them outside of sanctioned class time. By replicating the classroom technology in group study spaces and giving students off-hours access to classrooms, groups can work like they are accustomed, using the same technology during group study sessions that they use in class.


4. Application-based collaboration
Google Docs and other cloud-based apps have democratized content sharing and co-authoring of documents. Many tasks can be accomplished without expensive multiuser licenses or proprietary screen sharing software. Manufacturers are building screen-mirroring receivers into displays that allow content to be shared from phones or tablets without additional hardware. Designing the systems and lesson plans around a common set of software tools gives users a seamless experience on all their devices and can be accomplished with minimal investment. Many of these technologies, like Apple TV, were born in the home consumer market and have matured to include features required for enterprise deployment. The widespread use of these technologies at home temper the learning curve when using them in the classroom.


5. The “Soft” Codec
Part of the coming bandwidth explosion is face-to-face video. Software codecs have eliminated the need for expensive hardware-based video conferencing solutions. Cameras are integrated into all of our devices and we have begun to experience meaningful video communication in our everyday life. Integrating this technology into classroom and group spaces takes a minimal investment and greatly enhances the overall experience. Participation is no longer limited by geographic location. Members can be brought in from other campuses to attend classes that are not offered locally, and experts on subject matter can be easily invited to participate in class discussions. By standardizing on collaboration platforms, any space on campus can become a participant in a collaboration.

6. Pre-Recorded Information
Didactic lecture has its place in the learning process, but this place is not always the classroom. As the shift to group collaboration during class time progresses, more of the actual explanation of things must move to an asynchronous platform. By allowing the students to view the lecture outside of class time, the instructor is free to put into practice those concepts they have recorded earlier. Dedicated spaces with systems like Penn State University’s One Button Studio affords both students and teachers the opportunity to record content in a controlled and purpose-built environment. A simple interaction with the technology initiates the recording with automated lighting and audio components that enhance the final product while not complicating the experience. Additional technology like Lightboard further enhances the presenter’s ability to communicate their message. Users can take the recording with them on a thumb drive, or sync the recording to their cloud account of choice.

7. Big Data Visualization
Sometimes you just need to see a bunch of information all at the same time. Multiple monitors and hyper-realistic screen resolutions only go so far when trying to browse a vast digital archive or visualize large sets of data on one canvas. Large format and high-resolution display walls placed in the learning environment give an outlet for pixel-hungry tasks such as viewing 3D archeological scans of endangered places or viewing large statistical data sets for pattern discovery.

8. Flexible and Reconfigurable
With floor space at a premium, classrooms need to be able to adapt to a multitude of uses and pedagogies. Flexible furniture will allow the individual instructor freedom to set up the space as needed for their intended activities without impacting the next person to use the room. Construction material choices are key to achieving an easily reconfigurable space. Raised floors and individually controllable lighting fixtures allow a room to go from lecture to group work with ease. Whiteboard paints and rail mounting systems make walls reconfigurable, too!

Active Learning, Flipped Classroom, TEAL, SCALE-UP, whatever label you choose to place before it, learning spaces of all sorts are changing. The occupants of these spaces demand that they are able to share ideas effectively and comfortably, and collaborate on projects with their counterparts both in person and in the ether. A global shift is happening in the way humans share ideas. Disruptive technology, on a level not seen since the assembly line, is driving a change in the way humans interact with other humans. The future is collaborative.

Joseph Hammett CTS-D is a senior systems designer for The Sextant Group. Specializing in high-impact visual environments featuring cutting-edge technology, Joe has particular interest in next-generation learning facilities, libraries, and student centers. His portfolio spans a broad spectrum of projects including higher education, corporate, healthcare, entertainment, and performance venues.