iPads in Education

Innovating education with technology.

Learning Space Designs and Their Impact on Education

We have traditionally viewed school architecture as a means of satisfying utilitarian functionality. Rooms segregate groups of children and academic departments. Boards are placed at the front of the room to enable frontal lecturing and seating is arranged accordingly. Hallways allow easy transition of groups of students from room to room. Play and eating areas serve their very specific roles. Colors? They are normally bland and "institutional".


When you look at great examples of architecture in society they are generally singled out for their beauty, inspiration and vision. Their unique image stays with you. Architecture isn't just a random arrangement of space and building materials. Impressive architectural plans usually reflect a certain philosophical outlook - political, cultural, religious, social or otherwise. 


The same is true of schools. The manner is which schools are designed reflects specific educational assumptions and pedagogical objectives. The basic template that forms the foundation for most school planning was created over 100 years ago ... and that's where we encounter a problem.


If the design of any educational environment reflects a particular approach to learning, how can spaces that have essentially been designed the same way for 100 years still serve the learning needs of our students in the 21st century?


Environmental design impacts education. When you stand in a classroom and look out at your students, what does the layout of that room say about the educational philosophy of your school? When students sit alone in rows facing a teacher and board at the front of the room, what is the educational statement being made? What do the walls and hallways look like?  We go to great lengths and expense to provide technology to our schools - hopefully in part because we see it as a means of empowering students to research, explore, experience, collaborate and more. Does your physical learning environment support that vision? How does it impact the process and flow of learning taking place? 


We could write a book full of ideas for innovative school design - many have. If you want to inspire the pursuit of 21st century learning objectives such as creativity, collaboration and student centered learning then many factors should play into the space design. Consider:

  • providing ample access to windows and natural light
  • giving students room to move around
  • using curves and organic shapes for walls and furniture arrangements instead of tired old linear, rectangular arrangements that reinforce frontal teaching
  • arranging furniture in pods where children can sit in groups instead of sitting alone facing the front
  • using furniture and seating that is flexible and easy to move into different configurations
  • stimulating creativity by using energizing colors for walls, furniture, floors and even ceilings
  • creating a colorful, imaginative and inviting entrance area that welcomes students and other community members into your school every day
  • creating a large community mural wall that can be painted, erased and repainted by classes as part of an ongoing project to reflect themes of the year and subjects of community interest
  • treating the entire campus as a learning area as opposed to dividing areas into single purpose zones - provide pods and seating with ample wifi connectivity all around campus
  • providing ample access and opportunity for teachers to move their classes out of regular rooms and into outdoor areas as appropriate
  • if possible, doing away with the "egg-crate", assembly line formation of classrooms set in rows along hallways and instead experimenting with completely different room arrangements and spacings
  • rethinking the role of hallways. Instead of being narrow areas that shuttle people between rooms they could be redesigned as open expanses between room clusters that invite impromptu social meetings and learning opportunities for both teachers and students
  • using less concrete and creating more "green" areas
  • decorating areas with inspirational art, photography and quotes

Clearly it may not be within your ability to knock down and rebuild walls and rooms. You may however be able to scrape together a budget to paint and decorate walls, buy or rearrange furniture, plant gardens and more. Get your students involved and allow them to help make their environment warm and welcoming. Give them a sense of pride in the place they come every day to learn.


Whatever technology you're placing into school, the physical learning environment should support the same pedagogical objectives that prompted the integration of the technology. Everything should work in unison to create an atmosphere that encourages and fosters 21st century learning objectives.


Sam Gliksman


Twitter: @samgliksman


Views: 2271


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Comment by Kim Floyd on August 28, 2011 at 4:37pm
I have taught kindergarten for years.  I have huge windows, lots of floor space, and storage, and tables and bookshelves instead of desks.  I have always felt that the rest of the school should look more like kindergarten, with room to move, think, and play.  I have large murals, bright colors, and lots of stuff kids can "put their hands on."  I agree with you about the impact of envirnomental influences.  If we looked at school through the eyes of a kid, we would probably want to go home.  I hope you can start a revolution.  Maybe teachers should contact HGTV and ask for a renovation of the education of our nation!
Comment by Sam Gliksman on August 27, 2011 at 8:52am
Thanks for the pinterest link Brad. Some nice ideas. Would be great if you posted a photo of your class setup when it's done. Good luck!
Comment by Brad Wilson on August 24, 2011 at 7:15am


Timely article for me as we are re-designing one room in my school. The space is designed to be open, flexible and inviting for all types of projects and learning. Here are some design ideas I have curated. http://pinterest.com/21innovate/classroom-design-inspirations/


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