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The Only Way to Predict the Future is to Invent It

Shea McMahon

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to share a few thoughts with American School & University as part of its educational interiors showcase. In our contributed article, The Only Way to Predict the Future is to Invent It, we dive into three questions shaping the future of education. Here they are.

Will school communities revert to traditional educational methods, or will they embrace what they’ve learned during the pandemic?

COVID-19 proved we can deliver education in a variety of new ways and accelerated a shift that began long before the pandemic. Many schools had already abandoned the teacher-at-the-front-of-the-classroom model of instruction for a more inclusive, student-driven approach. Future-focused schools are embracing models such as New Tech and Pathways in Education, as well as experiential, project-based, service-based and individualized learning pedagogies.

Sycamore High School recently introduced its Synnovation Lab, which includes flexible spaces that support a variety of learning and teaching styles. This gives teachers freedom to collaborate with students on specific content, while students work at their own pace and in their own space. © Joe Harrison, JH Photography Inc.Yet the pandemic also demonstrated that we—that is, everyone invested and involved in supporting an educational community—need to think differently about education’s current and future challenges. Education is in the process of a major transformation, and transformation can be painful. (If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be worth it.) Understanding the future, driving innovation and improving our approach to learning: that’s the challenge in front of us right now.

How does that impact the built environment? How can schools prepare?

First and foremost, educational delivery drives design. Learning and operational environments must be in place before we can even think about how the physical environment can and should be designed.

Generally, ways schools can prepare for an exciting future include the following:

  • Fully integrating sustainable design and operational efficiency into every facility system and component;
  • Designing flexible building, classroom and laboratory configurations;
  • Incorporating on-demand technology;
  • Using the entire campus and its environmental surroundings as a learning and teaching tool;
  • Ensuring safety and security through creative, unobtrusive design; and
  • Employing stakeholder engagement to involve and invigorate communities.

Many of these strategies can be implemented without investing in additional space.

How should or could educational spaces change to support the way curriculum will be delivered in the future?

The best way is to think about education differently. It is a life-long, life-wide and life-deep™ endeavor. This will

require a shift in how schools plan for the future—not just community engagement or master planning, but true futurecasting.

As a research-based architecture and design firm, SHP’s focus is on helping our clients think about educational delivery as far in the future as they can; after all, we’re designing not just for today or tomorrow, but for 30 to 50 years from now—or more.

When we engage in futurecasting with our clients, we consider many data points and inputs: student voices, agency and diversity; technology; economic and workforce trends; community and global demographic shifts; social and geo-politics; cultural, business and lifestyle trends. We ask hard questions and challenge conventional thinking. Only then can we design buildings that will adapt and change with the future.

The future is impossible to predict. And that’s a good thing; at SHP, we’d rather invent it. But doing so is a daunting task. Let this be our challenge to go invent the future of education, together.

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