Learning Spaces that Facilitate Student Learning

As a college student, I always liked it when I had a course that met in Edwards Hall – if for no other reason than a lot of the classrooms in that building had theater-style seating with chairs that swiveled. The fact that I would remember that after all of these years is an indication of the effect a more welcoming learning space can have on students.

Of course campuses today have a lot more options than chairs that move, and many schools have embraced new designs, configurations, and technologies that have transformed the teaching and learning experience. In fact the definition of learning spaces has greatly expanded to include a wide range of mediums that extend beyond the classroom.

In addition to rethinking their formal learning spaces (classrooms, computer labs, etc.) today’s progressive campuses are finding ways to add value to informal learning spaces (courtyards, coffee shops, etc) and incorporate virtual learning spaces (online classrooms, podcasts, etc) to provide their students with a rich, integrated learning environment that supports different types of learning.

“When we are talking about changing the learning spaces, we are really talking about changing the methods of teaching and learning as well,” says Dr. Peter M. Saunders, director of Oregon State University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. “You can’t throw the traditional model of teaching into one of these new renovated rooms and expect things will change. The room by itself is not going to do it – it has to be the instructor and the students working together.”

In the recent online seminar Redesigning Learning Spaces to Improve Teaching and Learning, Saunders discussed the seven factors to consider in teaching and learning space design:

  • Institutional climate for teaching and learning change
  • Learning outcomes
  • Course design
  • Student profiles and class size
  • Instructional pedagogical skill/training
  • Environmental/financial factors
  • Technology/furniture

Saunders also showed video clips that demonstrated the “before and after“ experiences of three different learning spaces on his campus, and the learning outcomes supported by the new designs.

From smart boards to clickers to Wi-Fi, clearly technology plays a big role in any room redesign today. Colin Saunders, multimedia instructional designer at Drexel University’s iSchool, explained the process for determining which technologies are needed for each learning space. It can be a complicated process that involves aligning the goals of administration, faculty and the IT department in identifying desired outcomes, short- and long-term goals, infrastructure, budget, and faculty training.