Have you seen the movie “Dead Poet's Society”? Then you must be quite familiar with “Hell-ton”. I had to start the article with this because “Hell-ton” came to my mind as soon as I thought of “learning spaces”. If you haven't seen the movie, then here's a quick look. Students in the movie were shown to be studying at a school by the name of “Welton Academy”, which they nicknamed “Hell-ton”.
Now none of us wants students to feel that way in an educational environment. This is where learning spaces come in. To make this easier for you to comprehend let's break this discussion into a question and answer session.
What is a learning space?
A learning space is a formal or informal area which is conducive to learning. A classroom, you say? Well it's more than that. Education is not restricted to the four walls anymore. It has crossed boundaries and broken all barriers with a huge advancement in technology. The traditional classroom has evolved with virtual space taking its place alongside physical space. In this transition, technology acts as the proactive lever, turning the concept of learning around into a whole new venture.
Therefore, learning spaces should be such that inspires education, promotes learning and provides a personalized environment that is flexible in the face of changing needs. There you go, learning spaces make classrooms look old and small. In fact, learning spaces are the new classrooms.
What are the features of an ideal learning space?
The Harrisburg University of Science and Technology has a number of group-oriented study nooks known as “knowledge alcoves”, which boast the same features as collaborative learning spaces like, comfortable furniture, good seating arrangement, a number of A/C outlets and more.
A few of the features that are crucial to any learning space would be as follows:
- Think first, what is the learning space being used for? Let your answer to this question drive the layout.
- Learning spaces should be spacious and have enough room to move about freely, accommodating digital devices for their usage in education.
- The ideal learning space should encourage collaboration, discussion and project-based learning.
- Technology is primary. A certain school in Tokyo by the name of Hiroo Gakuen have made it compulsory for students to have an iPad or a Macbook Air. The entire school is wired for Wi-Fi and each classroom is fitted with a ceiling-mounted projector for whiteboard presentations.
The motivation of learners is the ultimate end product.
How to build collaborative learning space?
Whether you are retrofitting your learning space or starting from scratch, I have composed a few tips by academic leaders who have been part of this outfitting. Let's have a look.
Involve faculty and students
Faculty and students make up the education process in the learning space. Therefore, involving them would be a great idea to make your learning space perfect. While planning the Center for Transformative Learning at the University of Central Oklahoma, faculty members and administrators and officials of the students’ affairs office got involved too. Their brainstorming sessions and informative discussions led to a successful implementation. According to Bill Radke, UCO's provost, “The one thing students kept saying to us was how they wanted comfortable places to sit and study and talk—both inside the classroom and out”. And they built their learning space accordingly. Therefore, student and faculty inputs play a crucial role in making the most of learning spaces.
Role of technology
Apart from installing the required gadgets like projectors, whiteboards and so on, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) would also be a great option. A continuous access to technology being used in the classroom is a great way to inspire creativity among students. This helps them be connected to their ideas all the time.
Apart from that, usage of apps is the next best thing. It was absolutely overwhelming the way apps can take the whole education scenario to the next level. You must also keep in mind that technology should be an enabler and not the only driving force.
Making it spacious and comfortable
The Student Resource Center at the University of Phoenix facility at Washington has a very nice example to set for learning space ideas. Here, students have a number of options to work together: the learning team room, a glass-enclosed breakout room with flexible furniture that seats up to eight, the study room, which boasts pods for small group work and the tutor bar, which is a Starbucks-like kiosk where students can walk up and get coffee and help with their schoolwork.
Bottom line is, students need to be comfortable since they are going to spend a lot of time in the learning space. Therefore, keeping provisions for every type of student, be it the kinetic learner or the quiet one, will be a good idea.
Decluttering the space
Research conducted by Princeton University Neuroscience Institute revealed when your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus and limits your brain's ability to process information. Therefore, segregating the education and the non-educational stuff in your learning space would make students more receptive of information. Pinterest can be employed to remove unwanted digital clutter.
Make your learning space flexible
An ideal learning space supports all kinds of learning. You can design the learning space to support easy and smooth transition among different types of learning.
So what are you waiting for? Put your learning space shoes and get started. Don't forget to pour in your suggestions in the comments below.
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