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How Design can Shape the Next Generation of Professionals
12th April 2019

In an era of smart cities, technical innovation and automation, learning spaces must change to accommodate a new type of future professional.

The education system as we know it is becoming redundant. The top independent schools are becoming a mix of professional play spaces and workplace environments. Education is prioritising tangible skills that are pertinent to students’ future jobs. Creativity and problem solving are at the top of the list.

Demand is high for graduates with strong teamwork, time management skills and adaptability. In other words, managers want graduates prepared to respond to ‘real-life’ challenges.

Designers in the education sector play a crucial role in the creation of the schools of the future. Understanding these new dynamics is essential. Tomorrow’s learning environments have three key points in common with workplaces:

  1. Students have free choice of tools, methods and working environments
  2. Teaching is project based and promotes
    team work
  3. Students have access to next-generation technology and data
Double height entrance lobby at Academy of ASTEM in Shanghai, China.


The school of the future needs to go beyond a one size fits all model and meet the needs of every student. It should focus on assessing competencies rather than making students solve a problem using the same tools and methods. It should accommodate different technologies, equipment and work settings so that students can customise their own learning experience.

Adaptable spaces support a student-centred model. New structural grid patterns contain flexible furniture, so classrooms offer a range of layouts to fit the needs of both students and teachers.

Diversified study spaces offer students a wide choice of environments. They bridge the gap between working and social space, with sophisticated meeting room style environments and areas for collaboration.


Teamwork is an important element in business. The development of collaborative skills is encouraged through interactive lessons and group work.

Students will need a range of seating styles and work areas so that they can share ideas and produce work together. Acoustic treatments become more important than ever to aid in the soft-separation of different but connected spaces.

Traditional ‘closed’ classrooms are being opened up into larger zones. These are simple spaces designed to cater for personalised learning activities. This innovative concept blurs the lines between rooms and amenity areas.

These generous, open plan spaces facilitate interaction between different classes and age groups by removing the pre-defined circulation patterns in a school. It is left for the learners to decide for themselves.


The school of the future will be a dynamic environment, featuring interactive walls and spaces dedicated to tools such as virtual and augmented reality. The inclusion of virtual reality in the education system will provide students with access to places and resources, regardless of geographical or financial barriers. The design of the learning environment needs to consider this so that equipment can be used at its maximum potential.

Technology will also help students to learn remotely. Faithful to the principles of flexibility and student-centred learning, remote learning will enable students to access their virtual classrooms from any location, at a time most convenient to them. School designers will have a new set of opportunities to take into account during the creative process, due to the need for high-quality, flexible, and adaptable spaces. These spaces may become more focused on practical tasks as traditional learning takes place off-site.

However, it is important to note that technology can change. It is just a tool and ultimately it is about providing spaces that suit people. Creativity, collaboration, judgement, ethics and relationship building are important skills for the future workforce. These behaviours can be encouraged and cultivated in flexible, social environments that promote various learning styles.

To complement this, education providers should also invest in quality support facilities. This includes sports halls, cafes and dining, resource centres and green spaces. This provides opportunities for less formal interaction and a more rounded environment that will support the next generation of entrepreneurs.

We are seeing a trend whereby key facilities are open to the community so that the school adds more value to the local area. This includes opening café style environments that parents can enjoy during the day as ‘third space’ workplace environments. It is yet another example of how barriers are being removed, changing the way schools feel and how people interact with them.

Coloured glass and patterns used throughout Academy of ASTEM in Shanghai, China.

Heritage vs future: two approaches to teaching

The education market is diverging; those that want to maintain traditional styles of teaching and learning and those that want to move towards more flexible, activity based learning. Nowhere is this more apparent than China, where providers are also attempting to balance the appeal of heritage brands alongside new teaching ideas.

Many heritage schools believe a traditional teaching model is still the most effective way to teach numeracy and literacy skills. This results in typical classroom environments complemented by specialist performance and arts centres, and sports complexes.

This builds creativity and social skills. More recently, heritage providers are catering for different teaching methods preferred by both traditional Chinese class based staff and more exploratory, inquiry based international methods for creative subjects taught by expatriate teachers.

Future school providers have embraced adaptable spaces. Lessons are likely to be more responsive to individual needs and many lessons are flipped. ‘Homework’ is set in the form of an online lecture or video and then students come together in groups to discuss it. Children are grouped based on their level of understanding with personalised lessons developed from this process.

There is differentiation developing in the market. The most interesting space to work in is those that blend the two teaching and learning styles. This results in innovative architectural solutions, with multi-functional spaces the norm.