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Implementing a Learner-centered Philosophy

Today we build schools to human dimensions: a body’s length, width, and mass, with considerations for perceiving space and moving through it, for how we reach, sit, walk and interact. For example, the average person takes up one foot, eight inches of space when standing and two feet, five and a half inches when sitting. On average, three people standing together occupy five feet, seven inches of space, while one person in a wheelchair may require up to six and a half feet.

Human Dimensions

Add to these dimensions the distance covered by an outstretched arm, the length of a stride, the momentum accomplished with each turn of a wheelchair’s wheels. How we engineer the shape of a room, the width of a hallway, the rise of a ramp, are determined by human dimensions. These dimensions change according to activity, age and gender and from one individual to another, but it is nevertheless, an understanding of the body’s structures and functions which direct our plans for enclosing the spaces we inhabit. This is to say, we build our schools around ourselves.

These dimensions are averages we depend upon in designing and building. We would not think to build to dimensions outside our physical nature. We would not assume to build functional space that requires cautious use. For reasons of safety and efficiency, ease of motion and accessibility we require a fit. By seeing schools as built from the interior out, rather than from the exterior in, we enhance our point of view, placing the needs, activities, behaviors and requirements of the learners at the center of any discussion of school design.

Designing Schools for the 21st Century

When planning and designing school facilities for the 21st century, it is important to approach the planning and design process from the point of view of the “learner.” Whether the facilities are to be newly constructed, or are existing and slated for renovation, educators, planners, and designers must carefully consider the environment where the learner is to function, viewing the school facility as an important variable in the learning experience. The school facility should respond to diverse learning styles, complimenting and enhancing curriculum delivery to learners and providing an environment responsive to the educational, developmental, psychological, and social needs of all learners, applying best practices in curriculum and instruction.

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