(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.








Recently, as part of my work, I have been working with schools who have come into some serious money for new building projects. Architects have already been introduced to those schools; however, it was thought wise to actually see other spaces ‘at work’. Further to this, it was also thought worthwhile to look at what researchers and thought leaders offer about designing learning spaces. For a start, Did You Know?????

Learning Spaces & Primary Classroom

Planning new physical learning spaces or refurbishing spaces requires the effective use of design thinking principles (Kuratko, Goldsworthy et al. 2012; Razzouk and Shute 2012; Hill 2014). Elements of good design include collaboration and prototyping (Brown 2009); collaborative prototyping (Melles 2012); and user centred input (Brown 2009; Kolko 2010).

Learning Spaces can support, enable and positively impact on the learning experience (Thornburg 2007). The communication and collaboration that comes with iterative nature of prototyping is one characteristic that can assist with generating numerous ideas for new learning spaces in schools (Veloso, Marques et al. 2014). Furthermore, the use of design thinking principles for new building spaces, is currently minimal in most schools, and there is little involvement of students or teachers as ‘future users’ of the space.

Input from students is essential when assessing how the use of learning space can support improved learning outcomes for students (Dugdale 2009). Feedback from students as current users of spaces informs the school about future use of space and the placement of furniture within that space (Woolner, Clark et al. 2012). Such participatory design approaches involving users (students and teachers) can provide a springboard that encourages all learners to become more thoughtful and involved users of their environment (McGregor 2004; Woolner 2009).

There is an argument that physical space is one variable, and that it does not have a direct influence on student learning. However, there is literature which suggests there is a strong relationship between learning and physical spaces (Thornburg 2007; Woolner, Clark et al. 2012). McIntosh in (Howarth 2012) is very definitive when he states,

“Spaces should add value to learning and act as a teaching assistant to learning activities. School buildings need to be viewed as influencers of future practice, not responsive to existing practice of teaching and learning” Ewan McIntosh in (Howarth 2012).

The relationship between learning and physical space is a most important variable which impacts on student learning and can support, stimulate and accelerate learning initiatives grounded in student-centred pedagogy. Innova Design Solutions offer these insights…..

Learning Spaces - Impact on Learning

In the main, schools are (still) designed to support an old factory-style paradigm characterised by mandated school hours which revolve around inflexible timetables to deliver traditional learning (Bellanca and Brandt ; OECD 2006; P21 2009; Rotherham and Willingham 2010; AITSL 2012). Such an environment stifles change and creativity and results with ‘more of the same’. Learning spaces of the future need to start with an approach that is ‘design thinking focused’ with resources which will encourage users to think creatively and re-imagine possibilities by taking into account the future use of space.


AITSL (2012). “Professional Learning Animation.” 12 April 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRnstWGJwPU.

Bellanca, J. and R. Brandt 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn, Solution Tree Press.

Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design: How Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. New York, Harper Business.

Dugdale, S. (2009). “Space Strategies for the New Learning Landscape.” Educause Review 44(2): 50.

Hill, A. (2014). Using Design Thinking to Develop Personalized Learning Pilots http://www.blendmylearning.com/. 2014.

Howarth, S. (2012). Pedagogy and People over Places and Spaces. A View from the Middle – Thoughts on Learning with Middle School Studnets, http://edusum.edublogs.org/. 2014.

Kolko, J. (2010). “Abductive thinking and sensemaking: The drivers of design synthesis.” Design Issues 26(1): 15-28.

Kuratko, D., M. Goldsworthy, et al. (2012). “The design-thinking process in Innovation acceleration: transforming organizational thinking.” pp.103-123.

McGregor, J. (2004). “Spatiality and the Place of the Material in Schools Pedagogy, Culture and Society,.” 12(3): 347-372.

OECD (2006). Think Scenarios, Rethink Education.

P21 (2009). “21st Century Learning Environments White Paper.”. from http://www.p21.org/documents/le_white_paper-1.pdf

Razzouk, R. and V. Shute (2012). “What is design thinking and why is it important?” Review of Educational Research 82(3): 330-348.

Rotherham, A. and D. Willingham (2010). “21st-Century” Skills. Not New, but a Worthy Challenge.” American Educator 34(1): 17-20.

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.

Woolner, P. (2009). Building Schools for the Future through a participatory design process: exploring the issues and investigating ways forward. BERA Manchester.

Woolner, P., J. Clark, et al. (2012). “Changing spaces: preparing students and teachers for a new learning environment.” Children Youth and Environments 22(1): 52-74.



Creative Afternoon Tea

A Creative Afternoon Tea was held on Thursday 11 September at the Pear Tree Cafe, within the grounds of Mater Dei Catholic College, Wagga Wgaga. (Yes, we do have a cafe onsite and the coffee is very good indeed!). The focus of this creative afternoon tea was that problem space .


Looking through a ‘practical lense’ by engaging the ‘users’ with a discussion about the space, my idea was to meet with students about that problem learning space. I was to also invite one or two teachers as well as ask others from outside the school with expertise in fields other than education. But I dropped the teachers after a mentor wrote, “Sounds great – the key is making sure that students don’t just get the usual teacherly/scholarly approach to things, but have other people around the table that shake up their thinking.” As a result, I invited three parents to the conversation. One had their own web design business, another was an architect and the third had their own interior design business. Unfortunately, the interior designer could not attend. So, I then invited another adult, a lady who is an education officer with much experience with physical and virtual learning environments in schools. All were only too willing to give of their time but when I asked them to consider bringing a friend who works in a creative industry, or who has a creative mindset, there was a long silence followed by, “No-one comes to mind right now.” This may be one of the drawbacks of living in a regional centre of 60 000, or maybe I just didn’t try hard enough for long enough!?! IMG_8144            IMG_8151

Anyway, prior to the meeting I asked students to share their thoughts about ‘space’, including both their favorite space and the learning space in Rooms 11-14. I did this to prompt their thinking and ‘warm them up’ before our Creative Afternoon Tea. Did I do this because doubted them, me or the process? Was I admitting I was doing something very different and i didn’t trust the process by sending this ‘warning shot’ a few days before? Possibly. At the start of our conversation, students talked of their favourite spaces being either private personal spaces such as bedrooms and lounge rooms, or the outdoors of back yards, parks or dams. When I asked, “Could features of these places be integrated into a learning space here at school?” I was met with blank responses from students. I pressed one student who stated their favourite way of learning at home was to lie in their bed and work on their laptop. I asked him “Why couldn’t we have beds in classrooms?” His reply was, “Oh, I wouldn’t work at school if I was lying in bed.” Hhhmmm. Anyhow, there was some interesting ideas discussed, and the adults around the table certainly did ‘shake up the thinking of students’. One of the adults took these notes as we talked. Notes 1 Notes 2 Notes 3

I found the conversation to be free and easy but the students definitely needed the adults to ask discerning questions and even make suggestions about the possibilities as reflected here.

The next day, another one of the adults sent this email to me.

Hi Greg,

Like always, I get something to think about and things bounce around in my head. So I thought I would get them out and you may as well see them too. Ps: I definitely spent your budget! A space that is totally flexible. Unlimited walls can drop from the ceiling and be configured in any arrangement – horizontally and vertically. The walls and ceiling can disappear completely and all surfaces are interactive. You can have spherical presentation projecting from the walls, ceiling and floor for a totally immersive presentation. You can create a whole room or a single booth. The space can be whatever you need it to be –the beach, your bedroom or even a boring old classroom. You can connect to anyone anywhere and have them projected into the room and control the conversation – ie: filter out non-class related comments (like anyone would use that setting!) The space interacts with all your senses – sight, touch, hearing, smell taste – these are very cool walls! They can be whatever material you want and automatically acoustically adjust to the surrounding noise and your required level of interaction. Chairs that recognise you and automatically adjust to your preferred settings. They can change shape from an office change to recliner and hover at your optimal height, move, tilt and put themselves away. No need for a pop out desks as a virtual space is projected in front of the user and it can be drawn free hand or typed, or spoken and images can be downloaded from your brain. They have built in speakers and microphone to record your ideas and is seamlessly connected to your virtual data space so you don’t lose anything. You can connect with any individual or with any group to share questions and ideas. They react to your mood and give you a massage if it senses you are stressed, and adjusts temperature to ensure your comfort. Mine would have a built in esky for use on the weekends!


So, wow! The dreaming can be translated into possibilities. I have little doubt that the possibilities of above would not have been identified and articulated without the Creative Conversation. Any of your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.