It has long been a challenge to architects, specifiers and educators: How to design learning spaces that are simultaneously aesthetically impressive yet conductive to high quality education.
Far from the cramped, undersized and overcrowded classrooms of the past, trends in learning space design have radically altered in more recent years. Successful learning spaces need to combine teaching methods and learning styles to create a more fulfilling learning experience. Utilising every centimetre of space is essential when considering classroom design and considering the furniture and layout can make a huge difference to how spacious the room feels. By prioritising changes to the layout, storage and temperature learning spaces can be deceptively capacious. Learning spaces should inspire students to reach their full potential and cultivate skills and creativity that will help them succeed in later life.
Configurable furniture helps create constant changes in the classroom. By using furniture that is mobile and easy to move such as mobile whiteboards, students are encouraged to be flexible and open minded in their learning approach. Being physically mobile and active whilst learning could help to reinforce the notion that students must transfer across aspects of this flexibility to their academic endeavours.
It could be thought that different types of learning spaces unveil different aspects of student’s characters and ultimately alters and affects the ways in which they learn.
In traditional ‘forward facing’ classrooms and lecture theatres a more traditional visual learning style is adopted with little room for discourse or debate. Although often viewed as old fashioned and outdated these types of learning spaces are still highly valuable and offer advantages to both students and educators. Formal ‘chalk and talk’ style lectures can benefit from such spaces as they allow a staff to engage with a large number of students at the same time. However, if these spaces are designed thoughtfully and with mobile furnishings, staff can be more adaptable with their teaching as they may begin with a lecture then split off into group work.
Informal learning spaces are also highly beneficial to students and staff. Common room type areas with comfortable seating and a relaxed atmosphere offer the opportunity for staff and students to socialize and for educational discussions and debates to occur organically. These relaxed and informal learning spaces help to create a sense of community which subsequently reduces the chances of students feeling isolated and dropping out of university. Students who feel a strong sense of belonging to a community are more engaged, productive and may feel less stress. It could be thought that the best way to build a sense of community on a university campus or in a school is to provide both staff and students a variety of spaces where they can easily communicate and connect.
The way in which students learn and staffs teach can be altered by their environment. However, it is difficult to place one type of learning environment above another in terms of success. Formal learning spaces seek to communicate information quickly and efficiently, whereas informal spaces are concerned with creating a community and sense of engagement between faculty and students.
No matter the type or style of educational institution, surely the goal of designing and delivering outstanding learning spaces is to match the imagination and creativity of staff and students alike.