Preparing tomorrow’s leaders is a responsibility we all share. In the face of global demands, a renewed sense of urgency exists about the preparedness and capabilities of today’s young adults. It has spawned a debate about education, reform and planning effective learning spaces.

Effective classroom design is a crucial element in learning. Additionally, learning opportunities can be extended well beyond the classroom to create entire learning environments that support student success. Despite the transformations necessary to equip students with 21st-century skills, planners and decisionmakers at education institutions continue to design classrooms and campuses that reflect outdated modes of teaching.

Exploring educational space design using a "learning per square foot" concept can improve student success, creating a community of learning and strengthening our country’s competitive position.

The case for change

Concerns over the United States’ educational system have reached critical mass. Questions about our ability to compete in a global marketplace have positioned education squarely under the microscope. The U.S. labor market faces a widening gap between the skills of our future leaders and projected labor needs.

Although few would argue that changes in education are needed, the consensus is that change is not occurring fast enough. New models of pedagogy, or teaching practices, are beginning to appear, but advances in technology and the resulting learning styles of today’s students have outpaced the changes in teaching methods. Greater action is needed urgently.

It’s "Time to Paradigm"

The need to transform education has a profound effect on the planning and use of space. Conversely, classroom design also can serve as an agent for effective changes in education, supporting a diversity of learning styles, as well as new teaching styles.

Opportunities for learning go beyond the classroom, and good planning and space design can help harness them. It’s important to integrate planning for both informal and formal spaces across a school or campus in an effort to establish an entire learning ecosystem, one that enables learning to take place anytime, anywhere.

Educators, planners, designers and students have a unique opportunity to collaborate on the adoption of new design principles—principles that go beyond the familiar practice of designing space by headcounts. These initiatives instead enable new ways of learning and reflect the trend to more student-centered, collaborative and group learning.

If students-per-square-foot formulas no longer support effective learning, what is the alternative? Could the concept of "learning per square foot" replace archaic mathematical formulas to help drive a contemporary and successful learning environment? What would a learning-per-square-foot space design plan look like, and how could it be measured?