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In China today, it's estimated that there are more than 300 million English learners of all ages. And that number is growing. Soon there will be more people learning English in China than there are Americans. With this enormous market opportunity, Wall Street English, which offers English language learning classes in 400 centers around the world, hired IDEO Shanghai to rethink its learning environments.

During the research, IDEO designers learned that for people in China, English unlocks more than just job opportunities. Many of the learners are willing to pay a lot of money for English education–even if they don't make much money to begin with–because it can enhance their experience with Western entertainment and news, traveling around the world and meeting new people outside of China. The younger generation in China is interested in more that just higher pay; they want a better quality of life through quality experiences. English is an essential key to unlock culture, relationships and connections.

With technology, the Chinese are beginning to not only be exposed to more English content than ever before, but also to new methods of learning. The traditional school memorization methods are slowly moving online, where young people can now interact and learn with English speakers around the world.

Wall Street Pano

Because learning English (or any language) is a social activity, there are needs for public, active spaces for people to practice and talk, as well as needs for smaller, more private study areas. Wall Street English maintained designated classroom areas and social spaces, but needed to find a way to accommodate more intimate spaces as well. Designers worked on making the different learning areas more multipurpose, making social areas more casual, and making it feel less like an office or cafeteria space. And they worked on creating spaces for open interaction between teachers and learners.

After observing time-lapse footage of existing Wall Street English spaces to understand how teachers and learners interacted with each other, IDEO teams designed new areas for casual and interactive gatherings. They got rid of tables and chairs in favor of standing stools and open spaces. They optimized classroom areas to double as isolated learning pods for people who wanted to spend time on their own. And they designed ways for digital tools to interact with the physical space using Bluetooth beacons and app prototypes, to compliment Wall Street English's blended learning method.