The powerful potential of learning communities
Over the past few years, learning communities have emerged as one of the most important trends in education worldwide — and it’s not just at the university level. Young learners also benefit immensely from learning communities, according to recent research from Harvard University. Shanghai is ready to open its first purpose-built learning community school, designed for student-centered learning, in January 2018.
Learning communities connect students and enable shared learning through collaborative inquiry, in which the students work together to learn and solve problems. This approach helps students learn how to listen and work together, while also gaining social confidence — one of the most essential traits identified by educators as missing from more traditional teaching approaches.
Prakash Nair, in his book “Blueprint for Tomorrow: Redesigning Schools for Student-Centered Learning,” explains that traditional style classrooms are designed for efficiency, not necessarily for collaborative learning. Not unlike a factory, teachers were meant to deliver education to a passive group of listeners, who then moved to the next classroom to repeat the same process.
Current education practice has shifted to student-centered learning, in which the teacher becomes more of a facilitator.
This collaborative approach isn’t new — but the last few decades, according to Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, have seen such a massive shift to keep up with the modern technology required in today’s workforce that the movement has taken off. Fortunately, some schools are already catching on.
According to Nair, schools should be designed from the ground up to support four fundamental principles: the need to be welcoming, be versatile, support various learning activities, and to send positive messages about activity and behavior. This approach gets to the heart of the matter: making spaces that create climates where students can learn, grow and thrive.
Nair is not just an author; he is also the founding president and CEO of Fielding Nair International (FNI), the award-winning planning and architectural design firm that has brought these learning community principles to life all around the world.
In China, FNI built China’s first learning community school in Beijing — YCIS Beijing. The first learning community school in Shanghai will be YCIS Shanghai’s new Ronghua campus, which opens in January for Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Primary Years 1 and 2.
YCIS Shanghai ECE and Primary Co-Principals Andrew Mellor and Isabel Xu said, “The entire school is extremely excited to be opening the first purpose-built learning community campus in Shanghai.
It entirely supports our unique curriculum, which includes emergent learning, Chinese and English co-teachers, and student-centered learning. Each learning community space is designed to enable a variety of learning styles and approaches to be supported. The space’s adaptability provides students with the resources to pursue learning in their own way.”
Learning communities are poised to bring current academic theory into reality so that today’s students can learn and practice skills to prepare them for the future.
Children today need to be prepared for a different and flexible workplace, and learning communities will help give them the tools for future success. The youngest learners at YCIS Shanghai are now counting down the days until they can move to their new campus, and flourish in their new learning community paradigm.