The Classroom as ONE Learning Environment of the Future
(laboratoire informatique, Universite du Maine, France
Abstract:Firstly, we consider important concepts to be
taken into account when thinking about the classroom organisation and
the design of learning environments. The concept of classroom
integrates different facets including at first interaction between
children and a system of available knowledge carried out either by
human beings or multi-media contents. A very important facet is that
the classroom is also a context for social interaction. Knowledge
acquisition by human beings makes sense only if we take into account
the need for socialisation of knowledge and a process that allows the
sharing of it. We then consider recent results in cognitive sciences
especially in the study of learning theories and focus on why and how
this is to be considered when designing and implementing educational
technologies. We need to consider user-centered approaches and human
factors in the classroom.
We then describe the major characteristics of the classroom for
future. The model we propose for the classroom is to be splitted in
two parts : the kernel (as a set of real places where persons can meet
physicaly) and the cloud (as a set of real or virtual places)
reachable from the kernel via networks. The kernel plays a role of a
fix point very useful for people having roots. The balance between
activities taking place in the kernel and the cloud is then
analysed. This leads us to discuss some basic principles underlying
the global organisation. This kind of approach helps us to specify
more precisely different points : teachers' roles and constraints on
teachers' education. The need for mediatised resources meeting the
needs in such schools leads us to propositions for methodologies to
design educational resources.
Key Words:concept of classroom, distributed learning
environments, educational technologies, educational resources design,
In the first part of the text, we consider important concepts to be
taken into account when thinking about the classroom organisation and
the design of learning environments. These concepts concern mainly
human, social aspects, roles of the classrooms and the link with
learning theories. From this background, it becomes possible to
analyse major characteristics for the classroom of the future and
model for its organisation based on a concept of a kernel (seen as a
fix point, real place allowing social interaction and direct contact
of learners with "live" knowledge) and the concept of a cloud (seen
as a virtual place allowing remote access to -or interaction with-
knowledge and people). The effects of such an organisation on
teachers' roles, teachers' education, multi-media resources design can
then be described.
2 Concept of Classroom
The concept of the classroom integrates different facets including at
first a system of interactions between learners and a system of
available knowledge carried out either by human beings (one teacher or
peers) or mediatised contents (books in library, multimedia
tools). The main goal is to have the learners acquiring of,
re-building for themselves this knowledge. It is clear for us that
acquisition is here to be understood as "re-creation", "
re-construction" of knowledge in the learners' head rather than
"transmission" of knowledge. So designing a learning environment (and
the classroom is such a place even if not reduced to such functions!)
means designing a place allowing for such a re-construction.
Another very important facet is that the classroom is first of all a
context for social interaction : the room itself (once the door is
closed) is a place allowing a kind of micro-social integration between
children and the teacher. It is a place where equality of chance
between children is to be guaranteed. Equality of chance means here
that each child must find the possibility to reach her highest
opportunity for personal developement and acheive her best personal
level. This differs notably from equality in reached levels.
Knowledge acquisition by human beings makes sense only if we take into
account the need for socialisation of knowledge and the process
allowing the sharing of it. The school in its whole is a place for
social interaction including that involving adults playing roles like
administration or parents.
We conclude from such remarks that when implementing educational
technologies, we must consider such a process of socialisation
including sharing of knowledge between persons. The classroom is not
only a place for learning content in various separate disciplines, it
is a place where it is possible to integrate knowledge from various
disciplines, discuss and feel the social role of knowledge. So, even
if the classroom is, among a lot of other "more modern" possibilities,
only one of the possible places for learning (even if some consider it
as an expensive one), we must keep it. Besides social effects are
important. For learners, learning about social complementarities,
learning that others may have better or weaker possibilities or skills
for learning, learning managing differences in competences with
respect to domains (some can get good marks in mathematics, others in
arts, others in literature) is quite important to educating people
with open minds. What I would call "learning in the large" is far
richer than having people learning specific topics, focusing all their
attention only on well-delimited issues centered on their personal
direct interest. A possible but worrying scenario we can imagine today
would be to have children
isolated "learning at a distance" using educational resources
available on CD-ROM or through INTERNET access, learning only what
they want to learn. This is very important for children. Although we
might accept that such considerations can be revisited with fewer
objections when organising learning environments for adult learners
engaged in professionnal contexts.
3 Background from Learning Theories
Recent results in cognitive sciences -specially in the study of
learning theories- reenforce the approaches based on group projects,
"learning by doing" approaches (micro-worlds, constructionism,
constructivism,...), and collective organisation of learning
activities. This is to be considered when designing and implementing
educational systems, in particular in the design of educational
It is clear that solving problems raised during the project imposes
the availability of resources (human or mediatised) embeding the
useful knowledge. The major part of the work of the learners is to
identify, elicit, discuss with others (peers or teacher), separate and
apply the useful items of relevant knowledge. Educational technologies
can play a major role at this level. They can be implemented either as
knowledge bases or under hypermedia resources, reachable either
locally or via networks. This can play a role either to help when
synthetising activities, or tutor while organising structured
knowledge, or used during the evaluation process.
It seems very clear to us that it remains very relevant to consider
user-centered approaches and human factors. Management of motivation
and affectivity are very important to help the learning process. We
conclude here that educational technologies, even if easily available
at home via networks, will neither replace the classroom nor do away
with the school.
4 Some Characteristics for the Classroom of Future
We describe here major characteristics of the classroom of the future.
4.1 A Model of the Classroom of the Future
For us, the model of the future classroom is split in two parts : the
kernel and the cloud. The global model can be described as a global
distributed learning environment, centered for each individual learner
on a well-identified kernel acting as a fix point and a root and the
cloud being more flexible and expandable in different directions.
4.1.1 The Kernel
The kernel consists in a set of real places where allocated persons
can meet physicaly. People admitted in a given kernel are more or
less always the same: These persons know each others and allow minimal
sharing of personal problems and direct
communication when needed. The kernel plays a role of fix point very
useful for people and anchors them to a social construct and a human
4.1.2 The Cloud
The cloud is a set of real or virtual places, spaces of resources
reachable physically or via networks. People can find here resources
or external potentialities for virtual social interaction. Examples of
items available in the cloud are other classrooms (exchanges between
schools), distance education centers, educational resources available
from servers, museum, teachers from other classrooms, experts in labs
or engineers in firms and the like.
4.1.3 Articulation Between The Kernel and The Cloud
The balance between activities taking place in the kernel and the
cloud is to be considered carefully. This can be done by focusing on
either local aspects at the level of the classroom (in such a case, it
is a problem of organisation of activities inside the kernel) or at
the global aspects (the educational system in its whole). For the
first point, the coordination of activities conducted in the kernel
and the cloud part is to be managed by the teacher.
188.8.131.52 Hybrid systems
For this later point, we discussed in earlier papers model of
organisation called hybrid systems [Vivet 95]. The main idea consists
in observing that actual educational systems split people in two
categories, each working in concatenated subsystems : those going to
school and those having only access to distance education. We consider
that rather than concatenation, it would be better to integrate
subsystems, allowing access to distance education even for people
having access to schools and allowing access to resources (such as
multimedia tools, networks and the like) in schools for those who only
have access to distance education. We discussed [Vivet 95] benefits of
such an approach from analysis of benefits and weakness of both kinds
For example, this would allow a children working -maybe from home- at
a distance (in the cloud part of its classroom) during heavy traffic
hours in towns, going to school (kernel part) when less traffic is
possible. For people who need to move, shifting schedules and hours
when they are moving is a way to reduce danger and associated costs in
urban areas. We can consider now scenarios where it is possible to
take into account external and more global problems like traffic in
towns, weather in some countries, overuse of rooms in countries where
4.1.4 Concluding Remarks
We would conclude by using a metaphor. As we have harbours and
airports to open a country on the world, as we have tele-ports to open
a country to information systems outside a country, we would propose
the concept of "knowledge port" as the interface between the kernel
and the cloud. This integrates in a global view on the one hand the
social interaction of the kernel as a kind of "national identity" and
on the other hand the opening on the world as a source for enrichment
4.2 Global Organisation
We discuss here some basic principles underlaying the global
organisation. They include autonomy of the learners and the teachers,
personalisation of the learning process combined with coordination of
learning activities with others (others being physically present or at
a distance), flexibility in learning styles available, time
management, and in physical access to resources.
Considering the diversity and the mutual renforcement of the learning
activities, we infer the diversity of the organisation of the real
room itself. In the kernel part, we must find:
Furniture must be useful for workshops in small groups where project
activities can take place. Such a table can allow one computer to be
available here as a resource to serve as a local pedagogical assistant
like the ROBOTEACH system we described in earlier papers [Leroux 92a],
[Leroux 92b], [Leroux, Vivet, Brezillon 96a], access to external
networks via LAN and other such resources.
4.2.2 shared workstations
One or two separated workstations may be needed to have access to
hypermedia tools or to networks. Such workstations can be used either
by the teacher or by learners leaving their group to conduct a local
investigation to carry back more complete information for a project;
4.2.3 a "show" place
This is a place for presentation and collective use. It is equipped
with black or white board and an overhead projector allowing video
projection of computer screens. This place is to be used either by the
teacher to present new content, the goals of projects, the
organisation of the work, or by the learners when presenting the
results of their work to the other project teams. Demonstrating one's
own solution to others and reviewing solutions and results by others
on the same project make for sound learning. This is done with a
presentation to others and a discussion among the group, the teacher
beeing present or not during such discussions.
4.2.4. a "discussion place"
Conversation takes place around a large round table where it is
possible to discuss goals of projects or share results from the
projects. We can underline once more here [Vivet 89c] how it is
important to distinguished between pedagogical goals (which stay under
the control of the teacher) and goal of the projects conducted by the
4.2.5. "private" places
These are places where the learners can either have "private"
discussions with the teacher or work alone and isolated in
autonomy. Activities like preparing work, synthetising activities,
reporting may be done here with a given pre-allocated duration.
4.3 One Example of Scenario
We consider here the possible organisation for a group of 27 learners
needing up to 12 workstations (personal computers-PC). The kernel is
- Three groups of three learners engaged in projects activities as
those we conduct with micro-robots [Leroux 92a], [Leroux 92b], [Vivet
86], [Vivet 89c], [Vivet 91a]. Learners can get autonomy here from
help with a pedagogical assistant like the ROBOTEACH system giving
advice and resources [Leroux, Vivet, Brezillon 96b]. This needs three
- Three groups of three learners having conducted activities as
described in the previous a) point and engaged in a discussion (at the
discussion place) with the teacher. Checking and signing for objects
produced during projects [see Vivet 92] for check and sign for
micro-robots), sharing the results from projects, discussing new
projects, can be done here.
The swapping of the two previous groups is to be managed by the teacher.
- One group of three learners engaged in discussion at distance via
visio-conferencing with external experts, classrooms or looking for
external resources according to needs which arose during their project
or to specifications written from other groups. We emphasize here the
need and the role of precise writing of specifications between groups,
the increasing influence of skills for communication (either with
paper or telecommunication tools). We need here one PC with
communication devices -such as modem- to allow network access.
- One group of six learners engaged in a self-training session with
CBT or CAL software or in self-evaluation session with specific
software designed for formative evaluation. We need here six PCs.
We can see here that we need to specify clearly the pedagogical
functions (like pedagogical assistants, networks access, self training
and self evaluation) of the workstations. Such machines can be
obviously rather the same from the hardware point of view! This helps
in the organisation of the global learning space. We can see
that the positionning of the mahines in the room depends on the
functions. We have here criteria to help us when arranging the
- It must be clear that by activities we consider here only learning
activities, those which are specially designed to involve the
knowledge to be learned according to pedagogical goals. We must take
care not to confuse activities and activism. We know that it is not
sufficient to have children active and busy to have them learning.
For example clicking at random without a goal in a hypermedia is not
necessarily a learning activity (even if it is a nice way to appear
- principles underlaying the organisation
Few simple but strong principles are required in the design of the
classroom for the future:
- autonomy for the teacher as for the learners
This can be done in organising work in a way allowing self-training,
self-evaluation, self-assessment, using easily available resources
This can be done in organisisng work in a way saving time for the
teacher. Using pedagogical assistants helping group projects work
while the teacher is involved in a deeper discussion, facing a
specific problem within a group is a way. Another one is in the use of
Intelligent Tutoring Systems embeding student modelling. We know
results gained by research in this way but we also know it will be
long before the general availability and dissemination of such tools
in educational systems.
We refer here to flexibility either in the global system (management
of time, possibilitites for "life long learning"), articulation
between educational systems and professional training possibilities or
in the local system (scheduling of the courses and learning activities
in the classroom).
With this topic, we focus on the need for opening the classroom on the
"society of knowledge " in its whole. Networks allow access to
knowledge everywhere. INTERNET proves that the modern society is
engaged in the capitalisation of large scale, widely disseminated
knowledge bases. Training the learner of the future classroom to live
in so open a world is in the responsability of the classroom of the
These principles are very important for having people ready for "life
long learning" processes as proposed by the European commission in the
context of reflexions and actions conducted in 1996 during the "year
for life long learning".
- self evaluation systems
Self evaluation is very important; we need to train people to acquire
personal skills for self-guidance Beyond diploma delivery, the need
for people to make decisions for continued education during
professional life increases and the need for the design of specific
environments for self evaluation is now well established [see Jacoboni
93], [Jacoboni 94], [Teutsch 96], [Teutsch, Vivet 93].
- As P. Purcell from MIT says in the design of channels facilitating
access to educational resources, we are shifting from "broadcasting
approaches" to "broadcatching approaches" (from private discussion
with the author in Sophia Antipolis, June 1996). This means that
people must manage voluntary activities rather than being passive
consumers of delivered knowledge. They must be adapt at selecting
relevant content; focusing on specific items in large sets of data or
large knowledge bases; constraining navigation in large multimedia or
hypermedia bases to only the subsets which merit being visited
according to given goals; managing time with such tools, and covering
new skills which are to be learned. It is enough today to visit in a
university a room with workstations allowing free access to INTERNET
to appreciate the need for advice to students to prevent them from
possible negative effects.
- communication skills usefull in future workplace : from
tele-learning to tele-working
Work at a distance will have an increasing importance in the future;
this can be demonstrated by observing the process spreading business
throughout the world. Teleworking becomes everyday life not only for
an increasing population of commercial people but also technicians,
engineers, and decision makers. Teleworking can take place only if
people have acquired communication skills using new information
technology tools (NIT).We are now in a period where people can develop
these skills. We also know they can be harder to acquire for older
workers engaged for a long time in professionnal activities not
involving NIT in everyday work. We have explored the possibilities
[see Vivet, Leroux, Hubert, Morandeau, Parmentier 93], [Vivet 95] to use
distance teaching scenarios to train people not only for knowledge and
content they must acquire for direct professionnal reasons but to help
them acquire, by side effects, these NIT-based communication
skills. It is clear to us that the school of the future must take into
account such a problem. We believe indeed that this will be done
"naturally" from the new kind of organisation : access to the cloud
will involve most of such technology, and skills developed here will
be easily re-invested when needed at the workplace. For the moment we
consider such possibilities as possible positive benefits from hybrid
systems as envisaged in 184.108.40.206
5 About Teachers
This kind of analysis helps us to specify more precisely different
points : for example, teachers' roles and teachers' education.
5.1 Teacher Roles
The teacher becomes more a manager of the learning space and an
organiser of the work rather than a full-time direct provider of
knowledge. With respect to the contents, its work takes place more at
meta-cognitive skills levels. Among others, its activities include the
management and the organisation of the kernel and its articulation
with the cloud, the access to resources (locally or at distance), the
determination of parameters for pedagogical assistants software [see
Leroux, Vivet, Brezillon 96a], and the examination of traces delivered
by such pedagogical assistants for activities conducted within the
groups, the synchronisation of activities, the collaboration with
external actors to manage the external cooperation or competition
(with other groups, classrooms). For learners, finding groups
interested by your own production and having groups presenting results
obtained for similar projects via networks to others groups concerned
by the same topics can be a very motivating activity.
5.2 Teacher Education
Educating teachers to act in such environments is really the hardest
problem to be faced. A good principle is to educate them using the
same kind of organisation and approaches. So, to implement such ideas,
teacher education centers (being understood here as kernels for such
learners) are to open their clouds, become interconnected, with
student-teachers able to learn using such distributed environments. We
can underline the fact that approaching teacher education this way can
help when the new teacher starts her work one year later in a isolated
school. The new teacher can remain connected to the teacher education
center, the teachers, the peers she met during her training period and
find here the support she may need.
6 About Design and Availability of Educational Resources
The kind of organisation we are considering for the future classrooms
suppose the availability of educational resources which must be
designed according to the use we suppose they will have. By
educational resources we consider:
- firstly, learning material such as Computer Based Teaching -CBT-
tools or Computer Assisted Learning -CAL- software tools in the usual
sense. More advanced tools involving virtual reality-based worlds may
be considered here [see Whitelock, Brna, Holland 96].
- secondly, data bases of project specifications linked to
guidelines, booklets describing activities, eventually adresses of
teams -either learners or teachers- having solved the project for
which it could be interesting to cooperate either locally or through
- thirdly, pedagogical assistants engaged in cooperative work with
the teacher and the learners. An example is ROBOTEACH. [see Leroux,
Vivet, Brezillon 96a] for a more complete description of such an
approach. It is also very relevant to consider who are the designers
and the producers of educational technologies: are they developpers in
software companies? teachers
acting as private developpers? teachers engaged in research groups in
educational institutions?, "inspectors" representing administrative
truth? etc... Off the shelf -ready for use- products (looking to
market to fascinated parents) also deeply differ from open packages,
needing parametrisation to adapt them to learners and sessions
conducted by a teacher. An example of the latter is pedagogical
assistants as described in [see Leroux 92a], [Leroux 92b] belong to
6.1 AI&ED Approaches
A community of researchers has been working for several years to study
reciprocal benefits between Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques
and educational problems. Major events are the ITS conference in
Montreal -every four years- and AI&ED conferences organised every
two years by the AI&ED society. Major issues under consideration
include links with cognitive sciences including distributed cognition,
topics like instructional planning and pedagogical control, student
modelling, models for interaction with the learner, dialogue
management, collaborative learning, learner/machine interface,
self-explanation process or production of explanations and
representation of pedagogical expertise in knowledge based
systems. The work done in this area deals mainly with the design of
educational software. It is very important for future applications;
most of the prospective work is done in these area, new products, new
approaches are under consideration but we consider that generally too
few is said about the context for use, about the organisation of the
learning place, the classroom and the school as a global system where
such products will take place. We must recognise here that most of the
work done in the AI&ED community relies on a search for more
autonomy for the learner and more flexibility in the organisation.
Thus, this work fits with the model and prospective views we describe
in this paper. On the other hand, we are surprised to observe that
people trying to explicate prospective views about educational systems
evolutions (including conceptions of the future classroom) don't refer
much to AI&ED commmunity works.
The older work can be recognised around what had been called
Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS). This leads us to a better
understanding of problems to be faced to design knowledge based
systems when the goal is to have a learner acquiring the embeded
knowledge. ITS shells -just as expert systems shells- have been
designed to help developers producing such software [see Vivet 89b]. A
usual weakness of such systems is to start the design process of the
software from knowledge representation rather than pedagogical
activities (and a characterisation of the interaction one expects to
have between the learner and the system). At the starting point of the
design process, developers in general need to increase the precision
in the specification of learning activities and the kind of
interaction relevant to such activities.
6.2 Methodologies for Design of Educational Resources
This is a very important aspect to reduce costs and increase usability
of educational software. We approached this aspect in earlier papers
[see Bruillard, Vivet 93],
[Bruillard, Vivet 94] to understand better what we did on such
topics. The main idea is to consider that specification of educational
software must start from the specification of a context and scenario
for use. The process for developement follows a spiral model,
enlarging loop including tasks such as specification of activites,
prototyping, technical test and pedagogical evaluation by teachers in
6.3 Evaluation of Educational Technologies
The evaluation of educational technologies is a crucial problem for
which a lot have been written. For example [Vivet 96] explains our
understanding of this problem. It is clear that if we want to have
learners increasing their autonomy when working with educational
technologies, less control on the content to be taught is done
directly by the teacher. So the scientific content of software must be
checked carefully. This is a problem of certification of the
educational resources. This is a true problem, becoming more important
as the role of the INTERNET technology increases. Important questions
arise : who assess the scientific validity of mediatised contents?
How to assess the quality of available resources?
The last problem to consider is the availability of the educational
technologies. The first issue is the availability of hardware in
schools. This is not so difficult a problem because costs are
decreasing and the price as well as technical compatibility in some
sense is no longer a barrier. The problem of availability of the
software is more difficult even taking into account that dissemination
through networks like INTERNET simplifies the problem.
A major problem is in the maintenance of applications. The main costs
now come from the evolution of the software releases, most of which
impose a too frequent change in the workstations. The life duration of
applications_hardware + software_is too short and the global economy
has problems to support so many changes. A specific pressure comes
from the fact that one is sometimes pushed to change machines when
acquiring new software, losing at the same time availability of older
We conclude by saying that even with a scenario of generalisation of
use of educational technologies, the classroom of the future must
leave place for social interaction. The life-long learning
perspectives impose educating people by delivery of appropriate
knowledge contents but also by reenforcement of communication skills
and autonomy allowing open learning, self education, and self
evaluation. Beyond the technology and rational in organisation, we
must take care to keep young boys and girls laughing in groups,
smiling because they are happy when learning and sharing knowledge.
Maybe the future classroom will include virtual places without walls,
but it must keep the possibility to have real people with open mind
and warm hearts.
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