5 Strategies to Avoid an Open Learning Space Disaster

These terms have come in and out of vogue:

  • flexible learning spaces
  • modern learning environments
  • agile learning spaces

For some, open spaces seem to represent a sort of magic dust for catalysing 21st century learning. They can also be a headache or even a trauma, especially if old pedagogies are ported into the new space.

Here are five critical elements to launching an open learning space that really works.

1 | CREATE ENTHUSIASM BY EXPLORING THE PRACTICAL POTENTIALS

Be wary of fluffy, idealistic statements about open learning spaces facilitating “self-directed learning” or “21st century learning”. Anchor the “why” of the space in insight linked to specific student needs, such as:

  • Matching the right teacher expertise with the right students

  • Creating potential for physical movement without distracting students who need to retreat and focus

These are concrete logistical dilemmas faced by teachers every day, directly addressable by space redesign.

 

2 | SAFEGUARD TEAM MORAL WITH INDUCTION TRAINING

A team of teachers with a shared plan is essential for success. Helping teachers work together is a trainable process. At SCIL we have tutorials for team formation that you can access here and here.

 

3 | AVOID THE ANARCHY-TRAP WITH DESIGN

Ironically, open learning spaces don’t involve an absence of structure, but actually, a more sophisticated structure. A clearly visible map or dashboard is essential. A poster on the wall, a printed study guide or a teacher-crafted web page bring instructional scaffolding in an immediate and intelligible one-stop shop.This animated timelapse video show such structures in action.

4 | DEPLOY EXPERT INPUT WITH SOPHISTICATION

There are two classic errors to avoid: having one teacher spend excessive time addressing all students, or a retreat from explicit instruction altogether.

Instead open learning spaces allow a sophisticated plan that matches teacher expertise to student needs. Even with a small team of two teachers, the possibilities are broad. Students should feel an increase in useful and effective teacher presence.

 

5 | ADDRESS ACOUSTICS

Increased noise is a logical outcome of space designed to for active and collaborative learning. The most appropriate design strategy is to include engineered acoustic treatment, which is effective at preventing sound from escalating.

Even with this, sound remain problematic if there is not a unified plan, shared by teachers and mapped to learner needs. Identify elements of the learning design likely to provoke escalating noise. Possible solutions include digital strategies like flipped learning, headphones, engineered “cave” spaces, the use of outside space, or simply the shaping of routines and expectations.


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