Personalized learning – the idea that educators, designers, etc., can tailor lessons or spaces to different levels of student learning – is a term that’s been growing in popularity over the past few years within education. And while the term has become better defined, methods to achieving personalized learning have broken into new realms of focus – from academic, to socioeconomic, to demographic – based on increasingly diverse student needs.

When I was onsite at this year’s SxSW Edu conference, many of the talks and discussions I heard focused on creating personalized learning experiences through establishing differentiation. The methods proposed ranged from new forms of curriculum design through the development of social programs, to how educators can use neuroscience to inform educational delivery and the physical environment. It was clear that educators and the few architects that attended agree – flexible learning environments will continue to guide the spatial model for the future of education, from the technology we incorporate, to the furnishings we utilize.

Another prominent theme this year surrounded designing for innovation and entrepreneurship, especially within PK-12 facilities. Talks focused on how the educational community needs to evolve to better prepare students for post-graduate or work experiences as early as high school. In fact, the panel I moderated – which included Kerry Weig, principal and architect for InVision, Cindi McDonald, the Superintendent for the Waukee Community School District, and Maddie Darveau, a former APEX/WILC student – discussed on how innovation centers can serve as the home for business mentorship programs, a growing  frontier for PK-12 facility design. We also explored how we can better prepare educators in using these new facilities, and help districts break through resistance to change to connect students to future career paths.

A third consistent theme onsite was the influence of technology in education, and edtech. Many discussions focused on the use of VR, AR and AI, with companies displaying hardware and demonstrating applications in exhibit halls. Organizations also presented research on how to utilize new technology methods (such as) AI to connect students, teachers and the community. An example provided was how AI can help students navigate course selection and scheduling; the technology can help give them a balance of work responsibilities with course opportunities. What wasn’t totally defined was how these newer technologies would impact the classroom or teaching environment. For example, on the A&E side, VR can be used to show designs, but how will educators adopt the tech hardware and integrate it into the daily student experience? That remains to be seen.

Overall, SxSW Edu offered an overwhelming array of topics and experiences, but was still incredibly informative for everyone attending, regardless of their background. I hope we can continue to attend and speak in years to come.

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