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There are Many Reasons Why Flexible, Active Learning Classrooms Should be Widely Adopted
We’ve converted a few classrooms to more collaborative spaces over the last few years at The College of Westchester, and faculty reaction has generally been quite positive. These initial room changes have revolved around modifying the layout of a few classrooms from the row-by-row footprint of the traditional lecture room to a more interactive, group-oriented layout of round tables.
We are now looking to move towards the next iteration of this evolution by creating a technologically enabled space for collaborative learning. I had the good fortune of sitting through several sessions at the recent UB Tech conference focused on successful implementations of flexible learning spaces. As a next step, I searched out and reviewed some of the many articles and resources available on the Web that focus on this topic.
One particularly useful set of insights and ideas is the book Learning Spaces, compiled and published by EDUCAUSE and made available online here. I had been thinking about collating a set of useful observations and sharing them here, but assumed I would likely need to refer to numerous different published sources. As it turns out, this one resource was very rich in informative, well researched observations. While this work was compiled in 2006, the ideas here are as relevant nine years later as they were when written.
There are many reasons why collaborative, flexible learning spaces are advantageous. Here I share some of the reasons cited in this excellent document that really stuck with me. In most cases I have reiterated ideas shared in the book in my own words. In a few instances, I directly quoted contributions found in the compilation. Much thanks to EDUCAUSE editor Diana Oblinger for this excellent, informative work.
Reasons Why Schools Should Create Collaborative Learning Spaces
Learning spaces impact learning! “Space—whether physical or virtual—can have an impact on learning. It can bring people together; it can encourage exploration, collaboration, and discussion. Or, space can carry an unspoken message of silence and disconnectedness.”
Our learning spaces are long overdue for an overhaul: Many of today’s learning spaces were designed decades ago, reflecting a common layout that has been in use for centuries. Spaces designed in the 20th century (and harkening back to age-old designs) are not likely to fit perfectly with students in 21st century, particularly with the changes and possibilities wrought by today’s technology. Isn’t it time to consider an update?
The power of Active Learning: “Many of today's learners favor active, participatory, experiential learning—the learning style they exhibit in their personal lives. But their behavior may not match their self-expressed learning preferences when sitting in a large lecture hall with chairs bolted to the floor.”
Facilitate Focus: Today’s students are being pulled in many directions – many have to work, there are all of those technology distractions, attention spans are commonly considered to be shortening. Shouldn’t a learning space bring students and faculty together in an environment that promotes, rather than constrains, learning?
Flexibility. A group of learners should be able to move from listening to one speaker (traditional lecture or demonstration) to working in groups (team or project-based activities) to working independently (reading, writing, or accessing print or electronic resources). While specialized places for each kind of activity (the lecture hall, laboratory, and library carrel) can accommodate each kind of work, the flow of activities is often immediate. It makes better sense to construct spaces capable of quick reconfiguration to support different kinds of activity—moveable tables and chairs, for example.
Comfort – the “living and learning” space: In a town hall meeting on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, two student panelists confessed that they had dropped classes because of uncomfortable chairs in the classrooms. Why shouldn’t students and teachers be comfortable while learning? A comfortable, fun, flexible learning space can facilitate dialogue, stimulate the senses, and encourage interaction. Conversely, discomfort can be a significant distraction to learning.
The Psychology of Learning Environments: The book’s chapter on this topic offers numerous insights that help to illuminate the impact of learning environment design on students’ ability and desire to learn.
Decenteredness: “Emphasizing the principles of socioconstructivism, spaces must convey co-learning and co-construction of knowledge. Implications for architecture include thinking of the whole campus as a learning space rather than emphasizing classrooms. Within the classroom, it means avoiding the message that the room has a front or a “privileged” space.”
Community: Learning has been a community activity for hundreds of years. A social setting encourages social learning. We need to continue to evolve learning spaces that encourage connections, not compartmentalization.
There are many more concepts shared in the Learning Spaces compilation, and they are backed up with documented sources and research. If you are considering implementing collaborative learning spaces in your institution, this is a great resource to help better understand the benefits they can bring.
If you are currently using collaborative flexible learning spaces on your campus, we would love to hear more about your experience? What lessons have you learned during implementation? What other reasons would you offer to encourage others to adopt this model?