Is it time to say goodbye to the traditional classroom set-up? Learn how to ensure your learning environment is fit for purpose, with Maggie Layfield.

Neat desks all in a row, everyone facing forward towards a blackboard, teacher desk up front. This is the traditional classroom environment most of us grew up in, the default for schools across the globe. And it has been the go-to model since the days of single room schoolhouses. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that education today does not (and should not) look like it used to. It’s time to get flexible!

What exactly is a flex learning space?

This is a learning environment with intentional design that allows for a variety of classroom configurations and teaching methods. For those of us who are visual, think of a classroom that offers a reading nook with different seating options or that has abandoned stationary desks in favor of sit/stand or moveable furniture. Flex learning spaces go beyond classroom walls to include libraries with interactive displays, STEAM labs students can pop into, or outdoor learning spaces that allow for classes to move outside the building.

The goal is to support different ways of teaching and learning and foster a positive environment for discovery.

Steps to success

Whether you are planning a new school building or trying to bring life to an older one, you can begin to create flex learning spaces with just a few steps.

Focus on the outcomes you want to achieve

Are you trying to promote a more collaborative environment? Would you like students to be able to bounce between activities instead of being restricted to a single seat? Setting desks in rows all facing the front says, ‘This is a sit, listen, and take notes environment,’ whereas a circular layout creates a forum for discussion and communication. A variety of desk styles and tables allows for center-based learning, while conference-style seating encourages large group collaboration and cooperation. Create your space based on the type of learning you want to see happen.

Don’t ignore the technology!

Moving students around means you’ll need different ways to stay connected to them and support their learning. Instead of one large SMART board at the front, consider multiple screens around the room that display the teacher’s (or other students’) content regardless of where students are located. If you haven’t got direct line of sight on all students, having visibility into their devices and what they are doing allows you to support their learning. Utilize chat tools or classroom management software to allow for 1:1 or 1:many communication while students are working independently.

Little changes make a big difference

You don’t have to spend thousands to transform your learning spaces. Small adjustments like using chalkboard paint on walls (allowing students and teachers to use them for project-based learning or group collaboration), swapping desks/tables between classes, or changing the layout of the space can positively impact learning. I once used bulletin board paper and cheap Halloween decorations to transform my room into a gothic-style dungeon for our unit on American Gothic Literature – and the students loved it!

When we are intentional about using the space we have to maximize learning opportunities, we see an increase in student engagement and improved outcomes.

 Look for ways you can transform your classroom and create the type of environment that would excite your interest, or, even better, ask your students what their ideal learning space would be!


  • Maggie Layfield

    Maggie is a teacher turned techie who found her passion was using EdTech to enrich the classroom and create positive, engaging learning spaces. She serves as the VP of sales for NetSupport and enjoys training end users, developing educational content and working with educators.
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