What does a blended classroom look like?

We received a question on the blog this week about how to design classroom spaces for blended learning that we thought warranted a full post here. If a school is using blended learning in a transformative way, it is likely that classrooms will look different from a traditional set-up with rows of desks facing the teacher. The space must allow for independent work, small group instruction, and occasional full-group instruction, as well as the need for flexibility on any given day. Decisions about physical space are driven first by the academic goals of the blended learning implementation, and then by the instructional approach being used by the program. For example, building an after school credit recovery program would suggest a different physical space than a blended middle school class. The 2013 Planning for Quality guide (also available inside Keeping Pace 2013) assists program leaders with the decision-making process, helping to refine academic goals and begin to give shape to the program.

Once the academic goals and instructional approach are determined, it is time to focus on other elements, including the physical classroom and/or school building space. Established charter schools using blended learning, and particularly some of the larger charter management organizations (CMO) that have launched multiple blended schools in recent years, can serve as useful examples. Case studies and articles that have been published about Carpe DiemRocketship, USC Hybrid High, Aspire, Summit (and here), Nexus Academies, and Flex Academies provide ideas about what might work in your school. Also consider the lessons being learned by some of the more mature CMOs, including Rocketship, which has talked a great deal in the last year or so about its shift from a lab-based rotation model to a classroom-based model, and how that influences classroom design.

Merit Prep published a brief about its classroom design process as part of its work for its Next Generation Learning grant. Next Gen has created an active community of blended learning thought leaders, making many resources available on its website. Often these schools and organizations have received significant grant funding, and are required to write up their reasons for designing their schools the way they do, and share their thoughts about what is / isn’t working as the model is implemented.

Finally, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills released a paper on 21st Century Learning Environments that looks at the theory behind classroom and school design, and how learning environments must shift to accommodate the interconnected, dynamic, personalized learning that is happening in schools today.