Rethinking learning spaces to encourage deeper and richer learning

Learning spaces can have a powerful effect on student learning, yet many schools will overlook the positive impact they can have. Is it time for rethinking learning spaces? Find out how learning spaces can be designed to encourage deeper and richer learning.

The need for rethinking learning spaces

Student in class looking up thoughtfully

The learning process is heavily influenced by the design of a learning space, but its impact is often overlooked. Typically, a learning space can be closely linked with pedagogy (the teaching methods and practices).

Built pedagogy refers to how a space or learning environment can influence, shape, and design how students are taught. However, the understanding of both teaching and learning is shifting towards a constructive direction.

Contemporary teaching methods and practices have started to place greater emphasis on the learner over the teaching. With this shift, and a greater understanding of teaching and learning, there’s a need to rethink learning spaces.

Learning spaces will require adapting and redesigning to reflect these changes in pedagogy. Traditional classrooms are no longer suitable to fulfil modern learning requirements.

The problem with traditional classrooms

A traditional classroom with rows of desks all facing the front lectern

Modern learning spaces need to encourage and motivate students. To achieve this, a space needs to be open and inducive to collaboration and teamwork.

Traditional classroom layouts, with rows of desks all facing the front, can greatly limit learning. A traditional learning space will promote a built pedagogy that is heavily instructive, i.e., lecture and instructional-based teaching.

These learning environments leave little or no ability for engagement and interaction between teachers and students. Learning can become limited without opportunities to explore, collaborate, and discuss.

Traditional classroom spaces will assume that:

  • Learning only takes place in the classroom and at fixed times
  • Learning is individualistic
  • A classroom is front facing
  • Learning requires privacy and the elimination of distractions
  • Teaching and learning in classrooms are mostly the same between classes and from day to day

With advancements in learning theory and a greater understanding of how physical space can influence learning, modern classroom spaces seek to challenge these assumptions for improved learning and educational success.

A modern learning space

A modern and collaborative classroom with groups of tables

Nowadays, student learning and the physical space should be closely related. Learning spaces should be more tailored and student-centred. Successful learning requires flexible and collaborative spaces, requiring the design and use of learning spaces to adapt.

It’s increasingly important when designing innovative and effective learning spaces, for learning institutions and those designing classrooms to put themselves into the shoes of students.

Achieving a shift from traditional instructional-based spaces to student-centred spaces requires both schools and those designing learning spaces to consider what it means to be a learner in such spaces. A modern learning space will reflect several elements:

  • Flexibility – ability to move freely, including switching from listening to the teacher, to working in groups, to independent study.
  • Comfort – discomfort and uncomfortable seating can provide an unwelcome distraction to learning
  • Sensory stimulation – implement colour, a balance between natural and artificial lighting, and interesting room shapes and arrangements
  • Technology support – implement flexible technology that can help support learning
  • De-centeredness – learning spaces must express co-learning and co-construction of knowledge

A modern and unique learning space should be designed to encourage more active and collaborative environments. Designs should also facilitate engagement between teachers and students with free movement around the classroom. Removing the ‘front’ of a classroom also helps here.

Designing classrooms with flexible seating configurations helps to create a built pedagogy around collaboration and engagement. These spaces that encourage active participation and collaboration are increasingly important factors towards learning success.

Find out 8 steps to creating a successful modern learning space

Student-led learning

Students studying together

A student-led learning environment is not a case of leaving students to themselves. Instead, a student-led learning environment should be built around providing the support and structure to make decisions.

The elements of encouraging active participation and collaboration are key elements of student-led learning. Student-led learning provides many benefits for students, including:

  • Encouraging independence and allowing students to think for themselves
  • Allows for self-direction in their studies, providing a sense of ownership
  • Provides the ability to explore topics that are more relevant and meaningful to their learning goals
  • Making learning more fun and engaging by providing creative freedom
  • Encourages and boosts intrinsic motivation to encourage students to achieve their goals

How to incorporate student-led learning

Modern learning spaces put student-led learning at the forefront. Providing benefits for student growth and educational success, many schools are switching towards implementing modern student-led learning spaces. These can be implemented in 4 ways:

The learning space needs to be inclusive

Student-led learning values students’ ability to learn independently by prioritising their needs. Student-led learning is an inclusive approach to learning as it respects that every student’s learning needs and interests are different.

The learning environment has a strong influence on engaging students. Making the physical and emotional classroom environment inclusive and safe helps engage a student-led learning approach. An environment that provides students with a feeling of safety is vital.

Maintaining a classroom mood that is positive and fun engages a student-lead learning approach. Also trying to make a learning space feel more inviting, comfortable, and relaxing can also help to achieve a positive classroom mood.

Give students the choice

As student-led learning values independent learning, allowing student choice is another way to engage in student-led learning. Providing students with a choice where possible helps to improve the mood, engagement, and motivation of students.

Some ways you could offer students choice include providing time to study a topic of interest or giving the freedom to allow students to learn lessons in different ways according to their learning style. Giving students the opportunity to choose and explore can help improve students’ learning.

Encourage students to solve problems

Student-led learning is an excellent approach to building students’ problem-solving and analytical skills. Providing greater freedom and control over students’ learning also gives them a stronger investment in their learning.

With this stronger investment, students are more concerned and invested in the outcome. It will also encourage them to find solutions and provide the motivation to overcome any setbacks. Allowing students to try and overcome any missteps or failures boosts their problem-solving skills.

Make reflection an important part of learning

Reflection should be a key step in every student’s learning process, especially with student-led learning. Not only does reflection provides the opportunity for students to share experiences and learn from one another, but it also promotes deep learning, self-awareness, and self-discipline.

Reflection activities can help to encourage a growth mindset and boost students’ confidence when approached as a way to learn about themselves. Making reflection a step of larger projects or activities can achieve this, whether verbally or written.

Modern learning spaces require more than instructional learning. Traditional learning spaces fail to provide the opportunities and experiences that can improve student learning. Rethinking spaces centred on student-led learning can help to encourage deeper and richer learning.

See some of the schools we’ve worked with to deliver modern learning spaces