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ISKU Blog Learning design elements in the times of crisis

Learning design elements in the times of crisis

August 31, 2020. Written by Elise Tarvainen @ Elise Tarvainen

Educational institutions from kindergartens to universities are now vigorously looking for new practices to meet all the new expectations addressed to schools and educators. It is obvious that there is no one-size-fits-all plan that would guarantee a successful re-opening. The school providers need to think creatively about the different forms school could take. They need to courageously take actions to support both students and teachers through schools’ re-opening shaded by Covid-19. Could the following three thoughts serve as a jumping-off points for new ideas?

Focus on essentials – let the unnecessary go. I got recently captivated by the idea of “Marie Kondo-ing” the school priorities, that was introduced by the “Imagining September,” a recent report released by researchers from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The authors are convinced that focusing on the essential knowledge and skills that students need to learn in a given year and then letting go of nonessentials can help educators who are challenged by designing creative back-to-school plans in the times of crisis. They also spot relationships as one of the essentials the schools need to focus if they wish to find to succeed in their educational enterprise.

Invest in building bonds. In the coming academic year, social interaction between students and teaching staff is more important than ever. After a few months of distance learning, schools are encouraged to provide the students with facilities and a platform for reshaping relationships, building learning communities, supporting emotional learning, and practicing social skills. At school that use hybrid or full remote learning, there is an increasing need for both educators and students to team up to develop new kinds of strategies and structures for building and maintaining bonds that are important for meaningful learning.

Make magic by re-imagining learning environments. Covid-19 has urged us to re-design both learning processes as well as learning spaces. To accommodate the required safety protocols in the school buildings that haven’t changed since March requires imagination and maximising available space. The traditional classrooms, hallways and corridors can be easily altered to multifunctional learning environments. We collected some easy-to-apply and low-cost ideas to enrich the learning environments:

  1. Stackable stools and foldable desks enable more flexibility to change room configurations and settings.
  2. Seating pillows makes the learning spaces cozier. Using the pillow as a seat and stool as a desk the students can easily make pop-up working stations to any spaces, even outside.
  3. With mobile see-through partitions the layouts can be easily re-organized to smaller spaces to maintain safety distances without isolating the students from each other. Light and removable space-within-a-space furniture serve the same purpose as well.

It has been proven that the minor changes can make a huge difference. The right facility and furniture solutions with advanced pedagogical methods create learning environments that not only improve learning outcomes but also contribute to the health and well-being of all members of the learning community.

For further reading: Reich, J. & Mehta J. (2020). Imagining September: Principles and Design Elements for Ambitious Schools during Covid-19. Retrieved from

About the author

Elise Tarvainen

Elise has robust experience of working in multi-cultural teams and international markets. These assignments and projects have been a unique possibility to create innovative, world-class learning and innovation environments by fusing the best practices from Finland into local context and needs.

As a COO of ISKU’s international operations, Elise enjoys and gets inspired by working with a team of high-caliber professionals to foster company's growth.