Education providers around the world have all been working to design new learning environments. Currently, the focus is on designing flexible solutions that promote teaching, learning, and wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic created new demands for learning facilities as well, demands which are now being met together. Postdoctoral Researcher Tiina Mäkelä from the Finnish Institute for Educational Research (FIER), University of Jyväskylä, is an expert in learning environments, and she is participating in these activities as part of a large international research collaboration.

In designing innovative learning environments, the aim is to consider different stakeholders. “We want to offer research knowledge and listen to everybody involved – principals, teachers, students, and parents,” Mäkelä says. A strong understanding of this era and especially of the needs of students and teachers is essential. In good design, innovation and tradition are in balance.

The rapidly changing COVID-19 situation has made education providers reconsider how they use their facilities. The demand for flexible and multilocal solutions for remote and hybrid working has increased. Discussions about open and flexible learning facilities must also account for the wellbeing of teachers and students. Their wellbeing can be promoted by, for instance, designing ergonomic physical spaces that are acoustically and aesthetically pleasant. The presence of nature in learning environments is also important.

“Where there is a lack of natural scenery, innovation can mean, for example, that nature is introduced by means of virtual reality,” Mäkelä considers.

LEaRN Network led by the University of Melbourne

The University of Jyväskylä is also involved in a joint international research project launched this year. The project is coordinated by the LEaRN network (Learning Environments Applied Research Network) of the University of Melbourne. The purpose is to gain deeper insight into issues that should be considered in future learning environments and their research. During the project year, existing gaps as well as the most urgent themes of this research area will be identified.

Mäkelä brings her expertise in co-design to the project. Like the other Nordic experts, she also provides a particular focus on wellbeing.

“Recent years have shown us that even a high-quality learning environment will not work properly unless teachers are supported in using it,” Mäkelä says. “This means there needs to be enough time for planning how the facilities will be used and introduced.”

The research involves 20 teams with more than 70 participants around the world. Finnish project partners include FIER at the University of Jyväskylä, the City of Helsinki (education facility services), Ecophon Finland, and Oppimaisema Consulting. The Finnish experts work in a team led by the Royal Danish Academy, with representatives from all the Nordic countries.

Research on future learning environments is part of FIER’s main research area of learning, teaching and learning environments. The studies in this area investigate what kind of teaching, guidance and learning environments yield high-quality and successful learning outcomes.

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