What is a flexible learning environment?
Flexible learning environments should allow students to do everything from individual study to participating in a lively group discussion, sometimes in the same room and at the same time. That’s flexibility, after all, but what it looks like in practice can vary.
In almost every flexible learning environment, there are opportunities for students to work together in small groups or, like in a traditional classroom, to listen to a professor give a talk. Due to the ubiquity of distance learning, students should also have ways to interact with members of their cohort who are not in the same physical space through video displays and collaboration tools.
Flexibility should also extend to all types of instruction that can be delivered in this space. This too takes different forms. Some universities are opting for spaces that can effectively accommodate face-to-face classes, hybrid classes, and full distance learning in a single space. others, like the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), have created unique classroom “personas” for what they have identified as four distinct needs.
Still other universities have gotten even more creative, piling all the tools for flexible teaching onto a cart that rolls from classroom to classroom, says Kathe Pelletier, director of teaching and learning at EDUCAUSE.
“The faculty can just plug it in and go,” she says. “Of course, there are benefits to having more established technology on the wall, but there are also benefits to having more modular options that allow for flexibility and faculty can create what they want based on the technology.”
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How are flexible learning environments structured?
Designing a flexible learning space in higher education starts with the furniture. Students’ chairs can’t be bolted to the floor as they transition from listening to a lecture to snuggling up with their classmates or burying their noses in textbooks.
Students in a flexible classroom are typically seated in pods and around tables, which also allows the professor to flow around the room and work with students individually as needed. It’s also the type of setup that allows for personalized, adaptive learning if instructors choose to use that method.