(Recommendations for) Designing Learning Spaces – Part 2

In this contemporary age, what is the ideal learning space? As part of A New Learning Space in 2014, I referred to ‘The ideal learning space’ – OECD, 2011.

Learning Space - The Ideal OECD 2011
The Ideal Learning Space – OECD 2011

More recently, on December 11, 2015 I published, Designing Learning Spaces – Part 1. In that post I highlighted some of the research which strongly argues that learning spaces can accelerate learning initiatives grounded in student-centred pedagogy.

There is little doubt that learning space design has a significant role to play in facilitating and reflecting new pedagogical approaches. The teacher-student relationship is changing, with a shift to student-centred teaching in multi-purpose spaces that allow for individuals and groups, specialist areas, indoor and outdoor learning, and flexible community oriented spaces. With that in mind, I make the following recommendations. They are offered:

  • with the research in mind;
  • literature encountered as part of my recent Master of Education – Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation at Charles Sturt University;
  • recent experience as a principal in a contemporary learning setting; and,
  • engagement with new and refurbishment building processes as part of my current system based role.

So……. , when designing learning spaces:


Involve the users, especially the students.

Real change cannot occur without involvement and input from teachers and students; the main users of space (Sanders and Stappers 2008; Kuuskorpi and Cabellos 2011). The planning and design of school spaces should be adapted to daily practices and school organisation, which means taking users’ views into consideration (Veloso, Marques et al. 2014). Involving students in the design process may result in a more shared sense of purpose (Hunter 2006). Furthermore, involving teachers in the design process may result in them becoming more confident and able to reorganise their classrooms according to their pedagogical intentions (Martin 2006).

Therefore, schools are obligated to engage users in the design process when designing learning spaces.


Introduce key stakeholders to Learning Space dialogue.

If students and teachers are to become co-designers of learning spaces we may need to provide alternative learning experiences and curricular to assist with the development of the creative mindset for those who are designing (Sanders and Stappers 2008). Such learning experiences could be as follows:

Therefore, schools are obligated to engage with research and learning space design thought leaders. 



Remember Pedagogy and Technology.

The emerging area of learning space design integrates the pedagogy of learning with the technology that is used within spaces, both physical and virtual (Wilson and Randall 2012). The convergence of pedagogy, space and technology, provides a framework with which to address a host of issues associated with the design of learning spaces (Oblinger 2005). The link between learning theory and physical space can be sees as…. ‘chicken and egg- what comes first’? However, ongoing and extensive dialogue about both contemporary learning (pedagogy and technology) and building design (space) will bring substance to new buildings and spaces.

Therefore, schools are obligated to demonstrate evidence of how the learning space supports pedagogy and technology use to accelerate learning.


Design for students’ needs.

Communities and cultures are now more connected and more informed than ever before (Friedman 2006; Sanders and Stappers 2008). Therefore, there is a need to design for people’s purpose more so than designing products (Sanders and Stappers 2008). This currently translates to designing and creating learning spaces which:

  • support the development of skills as compared to concentration on content;
  • focus more on formative assessment and the process of learning, rather than just the summative assessment and end product of learning; and,
  • take into account the student-centred approaches as much, if not more than teacher directed delivery.

Therefore, are obligated to demonstrate an understanding of how any new space will support the development of skills and student-centred approaches to learning.


Adopt a ‘prototype mindset’

By adopting a ‘prototype mindset’, the user increases their understanding of the space and its capabilities which can then inform the type of learning activities possible within the space (Wilson and Randall 2012); after all, educational spaces embody the pedagogical philosophies of their designers (Monahan 2002). The communication and collaboration that comes with iterative nature of prototyping is one characteristic that is lacking in most classroom and building design processes.

Therefore, schools are obligated to engage with an extensive process of iteration among and between staff, parents and students which lead to the final building design.

In conclusion, these above five recommendations offer a way forward for schools to better lead and manage the design and building of new and refurbished learning spaces.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Regards and Thanks,




Friedman, T. (2006). The World is Flat: The globalised world in the twenty-first century., Farrer, Straus and Giroux.

Hunter, B. (2006). “The eSpaces Study: Designing, Developing and managing Learning Spaces for Effective Learning.” New Review of Academic Libriananship 12(2): 61-81.

Kelley, D. (2012). “How to build your creative confidence.” Retrieved 4 August, 2014, from http://www.ted.com/talks/david_kelley_how_to_build_your_creative_confidence?language=en.

Kuuskorpi, M. and G. Cabellos (2011). The Future of the Physical Learning Environment: School facilities that support the user. O. Publishing.

Martin, S. H. (2006). “The classroom environment and children’s performance-is there a relationship.” Children and their environments: learning, using and designing spaces: 91-107.

McIntosh, E. (2010). “Seven Spaces of Learning.” Retrieved 24 September, 2014, from http://vimeo.com/15945912.

Monahan, T. (2002). “Flexible space and built pedagogy: Emerging IT embodiments.” Inventio—Creative Thinking about Learning and Teaching 4(1).

Oblinger, D. (2005). “Leading the transition from classrooms to learning spaces.” Educause Quarterly 1(7-12).

Pilloton, E. (2010). “Teaching design for change.” Retrieved 28 July, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiIxdFBA0Sw.

Robinson, K. (2012, 21 May 2014). “Why is Creativity Important in Education? .” Adobe Education Series. Retrieved 8 August, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywIhJ2goiGE&feature=youtu.be.

Sanders, E. B.-N. and P. J. Stappers (2008). “Co-creation and the new landscapes of design.” Co-design 4(1): 5-18.

Thornburg, D. (2007) Campfires in cyberspace: Primordial metaphors for learning in the 21st century. . Thornburg Center for Professional Development. Retrieved from: http://tcpd.org/Thornburg/Handouts/Campfires.pdf

Veloso, L., J. S. Marques, et al. (2014). “Changing education through learning spaces: impacts of the Portuguese school buildings’ renovation programme.” Cambridge Journal of Education 44(3): 401-423.

Wilson, G. and M. Randall (2012). “The implementation and evaluation of a new learning space: a pilot study.” Research in Learning Technology 20.







Collaboration and Google Docs


At the end of 2015, I completed a Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) at Charles Sturt University. As a participant in the capstone subject, Digital Futures Colloquium, I conducted a Case Study.

This Case Study investigated, “In what ways are students using Google Docs for collaboration?” The use of Case Study methodology was relevant for gathering information through the views and interactions of members of the school community, focusing on their engagement with, and various perceptions of, the use of Google Docs for collaboration.

The Case Study “Collaboration and Google Docs” was completed in October 2015. A summary of Findings are as follows:

  • Students were at ease with sharing their document with other students; however, the regularity of commenting on the work of another student work was far less
  • Student ability and/or confidence to ‘comment’ on the work of another student, is not to the same level as their ability to create, use and share Google Docs.
  • Teachers overestimated how often students edited the work of another student.
  • Real time use of Google Docs in the classroom; that is, multi-user editing in real-time to co-construct a document, appeared to be the most enjoyable, comfortable and useful way students engaged with Google Docs.
  • The practices of correction, modification, commenting and editing all constitute collaboration; however, students were largely unable to articulate the connection between these actions and the skill of collaboration.
  • Students collaborated with others to share feedback in constructive ways in the classroom environment. However, this reality was not matched in the areas of students’ willingness (and possibly) their ability to think critically by individually commenting and editing the work of others, especially outside normal classroom hours.
  • When students accessed Google Docs outside of class time, it was primarily for the purposes of creating and sharing documents with the teacher, not with other students.

The recommendations I forwarded to the leaders and teachers of St Hosea’s (not its real name) were as follows: :

  • develop of a school wide rubric which attempts to measure student collaboration;
  • investigate why students use Google Docs more in class than they do outside of class time; and,
  • establish an online space where students and teachers share reflections and post comments about the use of GAFE to support collaboration.

One learning for me….. As part of the work involved with this Case Study, I developed a ‘collaboration rubric‘ particular to the use of Google Docs.  Whilst I will be the first to admit this probably could do with some improvement, it did provide a starting point for me when engaging with classroom observations. I am of the firm belief that schools are now required to engage in the co-construction of such rubrics with students to deepen their understanding of co-constructing such rubrics with students to deepen their understanding of the vital skills required for future work, collaboration being only one of them. If we can at least to being the process of measuring what we value; e.g. collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving etc.; we may start to ‘value’ these skills as much as we do literacy and numeracy, which are far more easily measured.

Any feedback or comments are very welcome.