What you need to know
The design of learning spaces is a core part of the experience of digital learning.
Ideally, today’s learning spaces should be able to support a range of activities, online and offline, collaborative and individual, while also motivating and inspiring students and being adaptable to changing needs and agendas.
If your institution is planning a new build, technology, furniture and other forms of infrastructure can be integrated from the start to facilitate any approach to learning.
Increasingly, this has meant providing independent, social and collaborative learning spaces adjacent to teaching spaces so that a continuous flow of learning ensues from formal classroom or lecture-based sessions to informal study.
However, our case studies also demonstrate that spaces can be reconfigured at low cost to achieve your digital learning goals. Making spaces work harder – for example by sharing spaces between disciplines – is another way of getting the most from investment in a new build.
Why learning spaces matter
Our research that shows that students who are using a variety of technologies in flexible ways in pursuit of clearly articulated learning goals are more likely to engage deeply with their learning and spend longer ‘on task’.
In addition, many universities and colleges now see supporting business start-ups and entrepreneurial companies as a part of their core mission. Providing facilities that are fit for these purposes adds value to the local community, builds contacts with employers and bridges the gap between learning and the workplace.
And for students, an attractive, welcoming physical learning environment that is able to support the way they learn can be as important as any other aspect of college or university life.
What the experts say
“Designing for the future is not easy. We know that it will be a technology-rich and social future but we cannot anticipate all future requirements. When designing learning spaces it is important that we build on what we already know to be good pedagogic practice and that we do not create barriers to doing things differently in the future.”
Gill Ferrell, educational consultant
Read more on Gill Ferrell's blog post: re-imagining contemporary learning spaces.
Be inspired - case studies
Isle of Wight College – creating spaces for digital learning
Between 2015 and 2016, the childhood studies department at The Isle of Wight College reconfigured its allocated rooms into the Learning Zone, a suite of teaching rooms and informal learning areas which opened to students in September 2016.
Observation of students studying with their own devices showed that different types of spaces are needed to support independent learning. As a result, the department designed a multi-purpose informal space adjacent to a small number of classrooms comprising a comfy seating area for group learning, a noisy zone for discussion and a quiet zone for assignment production.
“We watched how and where learners arranged themselves when using their laptops and tablets. There was often a tendency to sit together… around a low table, particularly at the start of an assignment. When an assignment was due, they looked for a quieter area so they weren’t distracted. Their behaviour was the driver behind the design of the Learning Zone.”
Jo Lutas, head of childhood studies, the Isle of Wight College
University of Warwick – a shared teaching facility
The Oculus at the University of Warwick is a newly developed, central teaching space with facilities bookable by all faculties.
Research by the university found the teaching and learning experience could be enhanced by having multi-faculty buildings which support sharing of knowledge and encourage socialising between students from different academic subjects.
The building houses two high-tech lecture theatres, 12 teaching spaces, social learning and networking areas, a café and outdoor terraces to enable students to discuss and share aspects of their formal learning. To support digital learning, all furniture is equipped with three-pin plugs and USB ports with wifi available throughout.
Observing students is a valuable way of evaluating technology-rich spatial designs. Watch a video from Manchester Metropolitan University before making your own video evidence base.