Design Patterns for Empathic Learning Environments

How Design Can Embrace, Exhibit, and Encourage Empathy

AIA Continuing Education Provider

1 LU / HSW

What is empathy and what is its role in learning? Why is it important to life, learning, and our role on the planet? How can nature support the learning of empathy? How can we design physical learning environments with empathy, that embody empathy, encourage empathic behavior, and facilitate the learning of empathy? What tools are available for designers to reference, use, or further develop to transform the way we consider design and the environments in which we live and learn? Exploring these questions will be the focus of this interactive session.

In recent decades, the importance of social-emotional learning has become recognized for its role in cognitive development by brain researchers, psychologists, and educators. It has become understood as a vital component in the development of humans and societies. Social-emotional learning is now an important component of many learning environments from pre-school through high school, with recognition of the importance of social aspects of learning and simply being human.

Described as “The Critical 21st Century Skill”, empathy is a skill by which people can understand and experience another’s emotions. Through developments in brain research, pedagogy, and emotional interconnectedness, it has become understood as a skill and behavioral quality needed for navigating and thriving in the accelerated change that the next and future generations are facing.

Most are born with this capability, and as a skill it can be taught and strengthened. It can provide near-immediate connection on a much deeper level than other forms of communication. As a pathway to generating compassion, empathic connections and thinking can foster healthy interactions with other living entities – humans, animals, and plants. Since soon after empathy was identified in the late 19th century, we have recognized the human ability to project emotion onto – and create emotional relationships with – inanimate objects and non-sentient life.

This session will explore the important emotional component of relationships between people and the built environment. Going beyond the avoidance of negative emotions triggered by stress and trauma, it will examine the role of positive emotions in learning and how the physical learning environment can support them. Expanding on the concepts of human-centered, user-centered, learner-centered, inclusive, and emotional design, a more holistic approach to meeting the needs of the whole child/whole person will be explored: empathic design.

Participants will discover, develop, and apply design patterns of interaction, storytelling, and agency between users and designs through small group discovery sessions. They will use these empathic design patterns to explore – from the theoretical to the recognizably relevant – and apply them to an engaging in-session project that will model their use in creating inspiring and engaging learning environments.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Develop awareness and understanding of empathy and its role in fostering emotional and physical health by connecting people to their social, physical, and natural ecosystems.
  2. Develop awareness of the importance of empathy in learning, how empathy can be taught, and how learning environments can incorporate and support such teachings through the design process, design outcomes, and fostering empathic behavior and the learning of empathy.
  3. Develop awareness of the role of outdoor and nature-based learning environments in fostering empathic relationships amongst humans and by humans towards nature.
  4. Develop an awareness of empathic design “patterns” - that embody equity, safe and healthy interactions among people, and between people, design, and the natural environment - and how to apply the patterns in the real world.
Ross Parker, AIA, ALEP, LEED AP
Ross Parker, AIA, ALEP, LEED AP
NOMA Principal | Education Studio Lead, Arcadis IBI Group

Ross has a passion for inclusive, culturally relevant, experiential design of educational facilities that connect pedagogy to design and to nature. His 3-decade architectural portfolio spans from northern Canada, the UK, the US West Coast, and US South. It includes three James D. MacConnell Awards projects – 2010 recipient and 2004 and 2020 finalists. He is also serving as co-chair of A4LE’s JEDI Committee.

Kas Kinkead, FASLA
Kas Kinkead, FASLA 
Principal, Emerita Osborn Consulting Inc.

Kas has focused her 30-year career on educational facilities contributing to standards for site development that achieve sustainability goals, and site programming that supports learning and child development. As the Principal-in-Charge of educational facility design and planning of Osborn Consulting’s Landscape and Urban Design Group, Kas’s work creates learning environments based in research grounded in childhood development, brain research, curriculum, and learning modalities.

Olivier Mabiala, M.Arch
Olivier Mabiala, M.Arch 
Architectural Designer, Arcadis IBI Group

Born and raised in the Republic of Congo, Olivier is a thoughtful designer who believes in the power of creative, inclusive, and sustainable design to promote true connection and to retain a city’s identity. Having travelled across the world, he has gained an understanding on how cultures shape spaces. He regularly volunteers in the community, with projects such as Hip-Hop Architecture Camp or NOMA PDX Project Pipeline, to learn from younger generations while inspiring them.

Track: Response

This track addresses the Response to real-world events and experiences that impact our daily life and our ability to function normally and be productive. The response to these occurrences is reflected in the learning environments we create and leads to the question – how can schools respond to real-world crises in a way that supports the well-being of occupants and our students' learning journey? How do we respond with approaches and strategies that may be used to balance the inability and lack of needed financial resources to address deficiencies within our learning environments’ infrastructure? Topics expand on the Art approach to the theme, but also include Science in the form of findings and outcomes through case studies and examples of successful responses to real-world conditions and events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, declining student enrollment, economics, equity, and other topics.

Primary Core Competency
Design of Educational Facilities: Acts as a resource to the design team in providing ongoing guidance and support to ensure that the emerging and ultimate design aligns with the established community vision, education goals, future programming, written design standards, best/next practices and education policy.

LearningSCAPES 2023

October 12-15 | Hilton Chicago

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