Classrooms Without Walls: The Traditional Classroom Criticized


As an important educationist during his lifetime, that is, “a person who is seriously concerned to understand how learning takes place and what part schooling plays in facilitating or obstructing it” (Postman, 1988, p. 83), Marshall McLuhan expressed concerns about the traditional classroom in its role as the principal, often only, locus for institutional learning. He frequently expressed his concern:-

We have to realize that more instruction is going on outside the classroom, many times more every minute of the day than goes on inside the classroom. That is, the amount of information that is embedded in young minds per minute outside the classroom far exceeds anything that happens inside the classroom in just quantitative terms now.” McLuhan, M. (1966, April). Electronics & the psychic drop-out. THIS Magazine is about SCHOOLS. p. 38.

“In the future basic skills will no longer be taught in classrooms.” Ibid., p.38.

A l'école, Jean Marc Cote, 1901.

A l’école, Jean Marc Cote, 1901 – education as knowledge transmission

“Erasmus was the first to act on the awareness that part of the new revolution was going to be felt in the classroom. He decided to direct the revolution from the classroom. I think the same situation confronts us. We are already experiencing the discomfort and challenge of classrooms without walls … We can decide either to move into the new wall-less classroom in order to act upon our total environment or to look on it as the last dike holding back the media flood. Let us consider that the flow of information into the student mind (and our own as well) which was once oral, and then printed, could easily be controlled in the classroom. Today only a tiny trickle of the information flow into the student mind can be accounted for in the classroom. For every fact or attitude which the teacher can initiate or direct, the visual and auditory environment today provides many thousands.” – (1956). Educational Leadership for a Free World: Mass Media of Communication. Teachers College Record. 57(6), p. 401.

McLuhan variously labelled his alternatives to classrooms as “classroom without walls”, “city as classroom” and “the little round schoolhouse”, to be explained another time. The reason for his concern about classrooms is that our built structures and spaces contained by them dictate how we work and interact in them. As Winston Churchill observed in 1943: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

The educational world is catching on and considering ways of taking learning out of classrooms, while not abandoning them entirely, at least not yet. Here are 3 articles that address this trend:-

1. The Flipped Classroom Guide for Teachers“High school teachers Aaron Sanns and Jonathan Bergman were the first to flip their classrooms. The Flip started when these teachers began supplying absent students with an online lecture they could watch from home or from wherever they had access to a computer and the Internet, including school or the local library. They soon realized that if all their students could do this from home, then they wouldn’t need to lecture in class.  Instead, class time could be used for expanding upon the content through collaborative learning and mastery concept exercises. In this video he explains the benefits he has experienced through flipping his classroom and in the process, will likely encourage you to delve into the world of Flipped Classrooms”. (Source:

2. Schools Looking Outside to Inspire Students“Starting this fall, the Simcoe County District School Board, north of Toronto, is using music stations, giant xylophones, sandboxes, road lanes painted on concrete, stages, wooden benches and pumpkin patches in its schoolyards as part of an ambitious experiment in learning. The board will build outdoor classrooms in all 85 of its elementary schools, and experts say it is believed to be the only district in the country embarking on such large-scale ambitions. The research is clear: Getting outside motivates children to learn, keeps them attentive, builds their imaginations and improves classroom behaviour, all of which can improve test scores. This is on top of the obvious physical benefits”. (Source: )

3. Technology Transforming Classroom of the Future “Gardner’s classroom is a glimpse at what the future holds for education, with technology impacting everything from what kids learn to how they learn, to even where they learn. It means more collaboration, but less formal space — and, in the years to come, not even as much space, because with smartphones and tablets a part of the lesson, learning will happen just as much outside schools walls as inside. “I see the lines blurring between what is school life, what is home life and the real world,” adds James Bambury, a Grade 6 teacher at Beryl Ford public school in Peel, who uses technology to track students’ learning as well as assessment … Jenson sees a future where students won’t necessarily be in the building every day, where lectures are few and far between and where subjects are combined and the school day is divvied up differently. “They might come to school every day but not sit in classrooms every day like we’ve been making them,” she said”. (Source: )

3 Responses to “Classrooms Without Walls: The Traditional Classroom Criticized”

  1. 1 Malcolm Dean

    The classroom, as a model of the larger world, has always been the smaller world. Schools should teach how to think, not what.



  1. 1 Teaching in the Digital | rosiem25
  2. 2 Contemporary Teaching – Reflections and ongoing refinements

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