What the Shift to Virtual Learning Could Mean for the Future of K12 Design

COVID-19 is transforming many aspects of life, and education is no exception. Right now, the Coronavirus pandemic is causing unexpected global experimentation with K12 remote learning. As crisis-driven "experiments" begin launching, we should be collecting data and paying attention to the affect on students, teachers, and even the parents.

Do Students Really Need Physical Schools?

To best answer this question, you'll need an understanding of which parts of physical schools can be substituted, which parts cannnot be supplemented, and which parts can be complemented by digital technologies. In theory, classes that require little personalization or human interaction can be recorded as multi-media presentations, to be watched by students at their own pace and place. Technology platforms can deliver the content to very large audiences at low cost, without sacrificing one of the important benefits of the face-to-face classroom, the social experience. Will it really be possible to shift to a hybrid model? We’re about to find out. It isn't just the students who are taking classes remotely, even the instructors are now forced to teach those classes from their homes. If remote experiments prove successful, there may turn out to be less students in any one classroom at a time. If this trend is sustained, it could present an interesting opportunity for architects and designers to get creative with how our schools look and function.

What do Students and Staff Want?

There is a stark divide here. Not all educators are comfortable with virtual classrooms and there are many who are not yet proficient in even basic audio-visual equipment. As students across the nation continue to enter online classrooms in the coming weeks, they’re going to learn that many teachers are not trained to design multimedia presentations, with elaborate notations and graphics. Schools will need to use this moment to assess what training is needed to provide a smooth experience. Students also face a number of issues with online classes. And online they can feel as they don’t belong to a peer group, which in real life instills a sense of competition, motivating all to excel. Anything done online suffers from attention span, because students can multi-task, browse YouTube, check social media, chat with friends, and surf the Web while attending online classes.

The Enormous Experiment

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced a global experiment that could highlight the differences between, and cost-benefit trade off of, the suite of services offered by a K12 school and the ultra low-cost education of virtual learning. Until now, face-to-face K12 education has stood the test of time. However, the current experiment just might show that "typical" K12 education can no longer be done the way it always has been. How we experiment, test, record, and understand our responses to it now will determine whether and how online education develops as an opportunity for the future.

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