Learning theory and spatial design - Education Matters Magazine
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Learning theory and spatial design

learning theory spatial design Petet Lippman

When planning a future-focused learning environment, this process cannot be based on normative theories, but rather, must be grounded in contemporary learning theories, i.e. situated and personalised learning theories. Learning space expert Peter C. Lippman discusses translating learning theory into spatial design.

Situated Learning Theory

Situated learning theory examines the transactional relationship between the learner(s) and the physical environment. Before the design begins, the purpose of the settings and how they will be used must be fully examined; for the social situations inform the design of the settings so that learners may become engaged in the practices of each.

Personalised Learning Theory

When planning secondary schools that are grounded in situated and personalised learning theories, the group learning areas (aka General Learning Areas) must break away from the traditional image of instructional spaces, where students are confined to sitting at a desk listening to a teacher or completing the same assignment as the other students. Within group learning areas, learners may pivot between an interactive presentation and the teacher walking throughout the space, encouraging them to engage in activities that they have planned.

Planning Group Learning Areas

Since these settings support teachers having access to each learner and each learner having the choice and opportunity to move within, between and across locations in the physical environment to access resources and others, the areas should be planned with numerous activity settings in which teachers and learners alike may work comfortably, settle and reflect on a task/project before engaging in it – independently or with others and/or virtually.

While a group learning area may be thought of as an open learning environment with few walls (hopefully, not angled), these areas must not only support cooperative group work, but also must allow for didactic teaching and independent work. To achieve a place that supports the diverse ways that people participate with others and acquire knowledge, the group learning areas must be understood as a place where activity settings may be attuned by learners. The attunement of the spaces by the users is a consequence of integrating a combination of moveable furniture and built-in cabinetry which informs learners how the settings can be used. When planning these areas:

  • Create a visible (open) learning environment;
  • Plan for activity settings – areas in the learning environment that may be attuned to support the pedagogy of the place;
  • Recognise the importance of corners as places that offer a sense of prospect and refuge;
  • Value the spaces-in-between as learning zones that provide space for movement and allow learners to become engaged peripherally with others; and
  • Realise the potential of walls as additional focal points in the room for display and, where possible, are locations where activity settings may be located.