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05 Apr 2016
The current focus on innovative learning space design has seen some schools implementing open learning spaces, whilst others have opted for the integration of new technologies in the classroom, and others maintained a more conservative design. It is important to remember that the design of our learning spaces should serve our pedagogy first and foremost, with the primary aim of enhancing the method and practice of our teaching and learning. Employees are seeking graduates who are innovative, curious, flexible, and entrepreneurial. Our learning spaces can support pedagogy, as we prepare our students for the challenges of life in the knowledge era, such as rapid changes in the workplace and the abundance of new knowledge and technologies.
Our pedagogy needs to engage our students in deep learning and to encourage curiosity through powerful and meaningful interactions, play, experimentation and immersive experiences. The days of teachers standing up front of the class and imparting wisdom have largely been replaced, as have the institutional row-by-row design of learning spaces. The shift in our pedagogy also needs to be reflected in the design of our learning spaces, if we are to promote enquiry-based and student-centred learning, with a focus on collaboration, design thinking and problem solving.
Our learning spaces are where people and place converge together, to interact and to learn. David Thornburg’s research on “How Place Matters in Education” (2012) defines learning spaces in term of relationships and highlights the importance of having a diversity of shared spaces; campfire space (i.e. whole-group lecturing, stories told), watering hole space (i.e. spaces where peers can connect and discuss); and cave space (i.e. quiet, reflection spaces).
So what could these new learning spaces look like? At the simplest level, the layout of furniture can be configured to promote discussion and to allow students to work together or individually. More complex designs can incorporate retractable doors or walls, to change the shape or size of rooms, to enable collaborative breakout spaces. Open learning spaces can accommodate both private and group configurations that allow for a range of social, recreational and project-based activities. Learning spaces that incorporate the virtual and augmented reality technologies provide immersive experiences.
These ‘agile’ or ‘flexible’ learning spaces’ will support a range of learning activities, with exploration and discovery at the heart of learning. They are designed to be multidisciplinary and communal places that provide the teacher with choices in how they shape their interactions with their students.