Reconceiving Learning Spaces in The Digital Era

The 21st century is radically challenging the old notions of learning spaces in the classroom and anywhere learning takes place.
Starting from the location where students attend their lessons to the devices used for studying, learning spaces are being revolutionized by the coming of technology for supporting education and learning. The idea of students being seated at their desks passively listening to teachers’ lessons has gradually become archaic. Collaborative work environments are not only changing the way students and teachers experience education through technology, but also the design of learning spaces.
This is not only about the “Phygital classroom”, another important topic we treated in another article. It is above all about a new paradigm that – experts hope – will turn into a new framework of architectural design. Improved learning spaces suited for new needs such as online and collaborative learning and the students’ desire for success in today’s society.
Here are some aspects of the new paradigm of future learning spaces.

1. The key is comfortability: different seating patterns and configurations

The importance of ergonomics is often underrated, but it should be the first aspect to consider when thinking how to redesign a learning space. Students in the classroom should feel as comfortable as they feel at home. If they are reading a book, it is rather uncomfortable to do it in a rigid seating by a desk: that’s why new classrooms should have cozy spaces in order to meet the right needs at the right moments for the students. In Scandinavia, some schools even allow children to be shoeless in the classroom, so that the classroom could remind them of home.
Furthermore, different furniture in the same learning space would allow students to work in different areas depending on the project or the time of the day.

2. Playful spaces are more effective learning spaces

Gamification is a powerful tool to motivate learning. We already wrote about the benefits of bringing fun into learning: by following this approach, teachers can give students the motivation to be more challenging and interactive, in order to make learning more effective. The key to gamification at school is rethinking the learning spaces, so that students should have the possibility to enhance their engagement while participating to a lesson.
As Josh Burker states in his book The Invent To Learn Guide to Fun, “a classroom is any space where learning happens”, including a library, a community center, a kitchen table or even a maker space: learning is also made by playing, which brings collaborative possibilities and further accomplishments for students. This is why it’s fundamental to “create spaces in which people can collaborate and work on projects that merge crafting and technology”.

3. Collaboration, involvement and students’ engagement

Learning has always been a community effort: it happens together, with a group of people going towards the same direction. With the possibilities given by technology, communities are also resonating online, with collaborative tools and social networks. Every one of these tools or devices should be used to foster collaboration and involvement, in order to enhance the engagement of students.
This also connects to the gamification at school opening to a broader scope: collaborative groups of students tend to be more creative when solving problems. And this is the most one appreciated skill by companies nowadays in the P21 Framework. That is why learning spaces should be more open: students should be allowed to bring their own device at school and they need to be motivated through collaboration and creativity.

4. Different learning spaces designs for different learning needs

We already mentioned that new learning spaces should meet different students’ needs depending on the project they are working on. It is also important, though, to think about adapting learning spaces for students with disabilities.
Learning spaces should be designed around the three inclusive design principles, as stated by the Building Bulletin of the UK Department for children, schools and families:

  • Accessibility, to help children with disabilities to take part in school activities alongside their peers.
  • Space, to leave them the possibility to move around in a comfortable way, easily reaching their equipment and for communicating.
  • Sensory awareness: designers should be aware about controllable lightning, good quality acoustics, visual contrast and texture, reduced levels of stimuli and generic sensory elements.

Generally, a well-designed environment needs to consider:

  • Teachers and students being able to communicate clearly
  • Accessible workstations with space for learning aids and assistants alongside
  • Furniture, fittings and equipment that support different learning and teaching techniques
  • Easy access to specialist ICT resources, personal belongings, aids and mobility equipment.
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