Learning does not need walls – do we still need schools?

What will the learning environment of the future look like and will schools still be needed?

Learning becomes more networked and mobile. But what does that look like? This article shows learning concepts of the future and how they will also change our school system.

Learning becomes more networked and mobile. But what does that look like? It probably moves somewhere between “do we know, tell us something new” and “this is all crazy”. In some schools, children and young people sit in their seats like seamstresses in the days of industrialization, looking in one direction and all doing the same thing, with the same goal, and in front is someone who sets the pace and sets the rhythm. It implies education from the assembly line. But there are also schools where children and young people learn when, where, how and with whom it makes sense, thanks to modern forms of learning and working and digital aids. And above all there is a lot in between. You can find my personal prognosis at the end of the article. So it is worthwhile to read it completely.

Digital transformation primarily requires a path, not a goal.

The range of digital transformation processes is incredibly wide. Especially in schools, it takes a lot of courage and persuasion to embark on the journey with all stakeholders. Some are well on their way, others are pioneers, and yet others stand anxiously on the spot and enjoy the naive security.
I would therefore like to say at this point that I do not want to and cannot show a pattern of the present and future here. Because just because our society is constantly producing innovations that could disruptively change learning in and outside of schools does not mean that they will prove to be useful for the education of children and young people in the long term. Dealing agilely with topics of the future is not always easy for us educators. But perhaps the school does not need a concrete goal for the future, but simply a path that is intrinsically motivated and, above all, courageously begun. Society offers so many guard rails that a goal ultimately emerges of its own accord when one begins to follow this path. So this article is not meant to be a prophetic speculation, but rather an irritation to the present and motivation for the future.

School as a mobile-flexible learning and working place

It was only with industrialization that large parts of the work shifted from rural regions to factories and to larger cities, which developed into urban centers, especially as a result of the economic boom of the 19th and 20th centuries. Factories and production facilities are now largely automated, making our work more and more administrative and shifting a large number of jobs to offices and open-plan offices. The equipment and size of the premises are still today mostly analogous to the status and position in the company. Johann Weichbrodt, Alexandra Tanner, Barbara Josef and Hartmut Schulze (2015) show this clearly using a 5-phase model for mobile-flexible work: Work places moved from rural home work to urban office work, in which working becomes more and more flexible and mobile. The digitization of work today enables flexible work places: At home, in the café on the corner, on the road or in the office and work begins to mix with private life. This development in the geography of work will have a delayed effect on school learning environments, because these have always reflected the working spaces of the people who created them.

The classic classroom

Everybody knows it: a uniformly designed room, frontal seating arrangement so that the view can be centered in one direction, uniform teaching materials, the green board at the front, chalked up by the teacher with a compulsory teaching material. A door and walls that close and hide the learning from the outside world. This is probably how most learning rooms still look like today, perhaps they now have a PC, a beamer and a screen – digitized but not transformed. This picture is reminiscent of work scenarios of industrialization and is unfortunately still present in many schools today. Even the learning methods practiced there have in many cases made little progress.

Learning offices and studios

Over the last 30-40 years, the walls in many a learning space have gone crazy, analogous to the open-plan offices familiar from large companies. Learning was given space to become more autonomous, flexible, self-oriented and self-determined. Everyone has their own workplace, learns alone, in pairs, in a group, in a flexible way. Learning rhythms are also shifting more and more from 45-minute intervals to larger time frames alternating between placement and self-study phases.


The trend of recent years, the co-working space, is also finding its way into our school buildings. In the “Co-Working-Space” there are still walls, but the room layout has become even more flexible and is divided into different zones. There are zones for presenting, researching, experimenting, relaxing and pausing, discussing, lingering, standing, sitting and lying down. Spatial transitions are designed to be as fluid, transparent and intuitive as possible in order to avoid spatial selection, as has been the case in schools so far. Work is rather project-oriented. The students choose for themselves which topic they want to deal with in depth, research their subject matter independently on mobile devices, decide which classmates they need as partners, which learning coach they consult as experts or even visit specialists outside the classroom to achieve their goals. Contemporary working methods like Scrum or Design Thinking find their place in open project work among students.


MakerSpaces are also increasingly finding their way into school concepts. It is about decoupling learning from the general curriculum and making it intrinsic and explorative. Classical craftsmanship mixes with digital devices, machines and media, with sensor technology and robotics, with natural sciences, artistic and technical subjects.
The focus is on the fact that students use their own ideas and creativity to design prototypes and technical solutions themselves, without time or subject boundaries. To this end, they bring their own ideas, projects, questions and problems from their everyday life, which they actively solve there alone and in a team. Ideally, the MakerSpace in the school is accessible at all times. It is a laboratory that can also be visited when technical questions arise in class that require a solution-oriented approach. Making thrives on an open culture of error and the conviction that every idea is valuable.

School becomes living space

If you look at the working environments of large companies such as the new Adidas building in Herzogenaurach, the Apple Park in Cubertino or the Google campus in Mountain View, it quickly becomes clear where the journey is headed. Here, the focus is by no means on the size of these places of work, but rather on the rhythm of working together resulting from space and culture. Working hours disappear and one works as one can combine family and private life, whether on weekdays or weekends. The aim is to create zones for meeting and inviting environments where employees may even prefer to spend their time rather than at home, where there is perhaps even more on offer than elsewhere in terms of relaxation, sport, recreation, leisure, food and social interaction. Places where people enjoy working, where they not only know what and how they do something, but above all why they do it. Also the model of many families nowadays almost no longer allows children to be at home for 5-6 weeks in summer because school is on summer vacation.
These spatial, cultural and rhythmic developments will reach our schools or have already reached many schools that are actively engaged in this change.

Learning does not need walls – does it still need schools?

“Children only learn in school.” “Why?” “Because that’s where the teacher is.” This is, of course, a misconception. People learn anywhere, anytime, even in their sleep. Learning is independent of teacher, place and time. So, neurologically speaking, there is no direct reason to go to a school to learn.
We consume a multitude of information, every day, always and everywhere. We are in communicative exchange with each other, via chat, mail or social network. We can conjure up any reality before our eyes by means of virtual and augmented reality. More and more digital devices will be able to bring us life realities to any place in the world, not only visible, but in the future perceptible with all senses.

Will we then still need a school? A centralized place of learning that is the same for everyone?

Learning in networks – school becomes hybrid and permeable

I believe in a hybrid school place. It needs a learning center, a home base. But school must also open up to the outside world and allow mobile, informal and networked learning.

Learning takes place almost exclusively in dialogue. In addition to all the technical aspects, it requires above all social, methodological, digital and personal skills. Learning spaces help us to let this dialogue take place in cooperation. A school needs diverse and flexible room types. It needs studios to create, laboratories to experiment, quiet zones to decelerate, virtual environments to project any reality virtually into the learning space and so much more.

In the future there will no longer be a standard curriculum for everyone, but a tailor-made learning plan for everyone. Students will be encouraged in their talents and will act in projects as talents for their fellow students. The Co-Learning Spaces offer the optimal framework for student start-ups, in which anyone who is intrinsically fascinated by a project can get involved. Time and content frames, such as timetables and subjects, become obsolete. The schools will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and will be accessible to learners so that they can also work on projects informally and in teams.

Artificial intelligences will help us to provide the optimal support for each learner as well as to take over learning analytical and administrative tasks to relieve them. The learning coaches (teachers) will in future focus intensively on those activities that artificial intelligences cannot perform because they require pedagogical, psychological, sociological and neurological depth. They will have time for the important relationship processes and the coaching of the learners. They are indispensable in their personality work and continue to be the most important component of the social learning interactions of any school and are also trained for this. Learning coach and learner agree on a weekly learning time, which is guided and documented in digital tools. They choose their own working hours and place of work in consultation with the coach. The more pronounced the learning competence of the learner and the relationship of trust, the freer and more mobile the learning becomes. “Masters of Learning” are allowed to leave the Homebase School at any time in consultation with the coach and visit extracurricular learning locations.
Outside the school, mobile learning is organized in a highly networked way via social network platforms. On these platforms there are chats and forums so that learners can support each other or with the coach and experts in peer learning. The learning assignments are recorded on learning cards, where the students can see their goals or pick up blended learning inputs from their coaches. Experts from regional companies participate in the learners’ projects, also in the sense of talent scouting and securing the location – the schools become generation houses with permeable walls. And I am looking forward to it! 🙂


Weichbrodt, J., Tanner, A., Josef, B., & Schulze, H. (2015). Die Entwicklung von Arbeitsflexibilität in Organisationen anhand des FlexWork-Phasenmodells, Wirtschaftspsychologie 4-2014/1-2015.

Philipp Zimmer ist Schulleiter und Schulentwickler. Er wirkte massgebend an der Entwicklung mehrerer Schulkonzepte mit. Dabei entstanden digitale Lernplattformen, die massgeschneiderte Tagesabläufe und Lernwege für Schülerinnen und Schüler ermöglichen. Er beschäftigt sich intensiv mit digitalen Transformationsprozessen im Bildungsbereich sowie zeitgemässen und zukunftsfähigen Lernkulturen.

Comments are closed.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More