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Space to learn

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Gillian Crothers

on 15 June 2015

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Transcript of Space to learn

The experience of learning in the 21st Century is seen to be an increasingly collaborative and participatory process. (Johnson, et al., 2013) The 2013 NMC Horizon report cites collaborative models of learning as the number one key trend. Similarly, Lee and Schottenfield (2014) suggest that “collaboration has become a core competency of the 21st century” (Lee & Schottenfield, 2014, p.1) Collaboration, though not a new phenomenon, (Rheingold, 2008) has been made buoyant in recent times by the proliferation of Web 2.0 technologies which are inherently social in nature. (O’Reily 2004, 2005, cited in Conole, 2012). As such, learning behaviors are shifting from basic information seeking approach models (Robson & Robinson, 2013), to collaborative models based on “active engagement with others in meaningful experiences” (Jamieson, 2009, p.6)

As online spaces become increasingly complex, collaborative and multimodal (Johnson et al., 2014), digital literacies are not simply considered important but are now seen as “vital life and work skills” (JISC, p.17), and require constant updating. (Jenkins, 2009 cited in Conoel, 2011). Other skills and capabilities are also required of today's learners, such as the ability to navigate vast amounts of information and validate appropriate resources. (Johnson et al., 2013)

Additionally, as corporations are now looking for graduates who are highly creative (Scott-Webber, 2012), the ability to think and act creatively is now considered a highly desirable attribute for today's learners. (Dillon, 2012) Formerly reserved for the creative arts subjects (Craft, 2003), creativity is now considered to be applicable across all disciplines (Boys, 2011), rather than a "rare magic" (Dillion, 2012) reserved for a specialized few.

In the following talk, Sir Ken Robinson discusses the importance of creativity in Education (Robinson, 2012).

Changes in the learning practices of today's learners have been highlighted in the recent study by the Spaces for Knowledge Generation (SKG, 2011) project. The group found that students move across “a learning landscape” (SKG, 2011, p.25), which includes multiple settings, of which, the educational institution is only one (SKG) Similarly, the Joint Informations Systems Comittee (JISC, 2015) suggest that young people today “relate horizontally, or laterally, more than vertically” (JISC, p.3) It follows then that institutions need to accommodate both formal and informal modes of learning practice. (Johnson et al., 2014)
Current educational thinking suggests that there has been a shift away from formal types of learning space design and a push to design spaces which are more informal. The assumption that informal spaces are non-hierarchical, encourage communication, provide flexibility and promote a more student centered approach (Johnson et al., 2014) may be true for many students, however, there is, little concrete evidence or evaluation available that actually measures the effectiveness of such spaces. (Boys, 2011)

Architect and educational theorist Jos Boys asserts that there are a number of “un-thought-through” (Boys, 2011, p. 3) issues surrounding the concepts of formal/informal design. For example, when these concepts are seen as “binary opposites” (Boys, p. 48) such as comfortable/uncomfortable, teacher-led/student led, serious/playful (Boys, p. 48) this may lead to assumptions around the quality of education on offer. (Boys, p. 3) Further, Boys points out that while architects may see the benefits of using simple design metaphors to describe formal and informal learning spaces, these may prove alienating for some students. For example, while some students may find that soft furnishings convey a relaxed, comfortable and informal environment, others may see this as inappropriate and juvenile. (Boys, 2011 p.25) This in turn suggests that assumptions surrounding the physicality of formal and informal spaces may prove an obstacle in our quest to achieving true collaborative and participatory learning. As asserted by both Temple (2008, p. 238) and Boys (2011, p. 3), the relationship between space, design and learning is an area which requires further research.

In his speech “ How Architecture helped music evolve” (TEDx, 2010) David Byrne discusses the idea that music is inherently shaped by the context in which it is created. (Byrne, 2010)
Similarly, there is growing belief in education, that creativity is developed and encouraged by the context in which it is produced. (Doorley & Witthoft, 2012)

This idea is celebrated by the d. school in Stanford which promotes creative collaboration by providing spaces which are flexible, and fully customizable by the students. Belief that the freedom to customize a space can lead to “innovation and experimentation” (JISC, 2015) is also shared by the SKG group (SKG, 2011, p.1) and JISC (JISC, 2015, p. 6).
Web 2.0 tools have meant that learners are now able to behave in much more social and participatory ways in online spaces, and can be both the user and producer of content. (Conole, 2012) Through collaborative processes such as collective aggregation, community formation and peer critiquing, (Conole, p. 49-50) learners have much greater control to personalise their learning experience and select, manage and use their chosen technologies. (Beetham & de Freitas, 2010).

Conole suggests that although Web 2.0 technologies have not yet been widely adopted in teaching and learning (Conole, 2012), they offer a multitude of pedagogical possibilities and innovations such as; the use of virtual worlds to aid immersive learning, geospatial technologies to enable situated learning, free access to open education resources (OECD, 2007), and online games as a platform for peer-to-peer and collaborative learning (Conole, p. 51). These tools have also, however, placed new demands on learners in terms of their information behaviours.
Advances in technology have seen the birth of online learning spaces. Although some research suggests that these types of learning spaces allow for greater personalisation of learning, eliminate time restrictions and encourage collaboration (Johnson et al., 2014), when coupled with the growth in open educational resources (OECD, 2007), use of such spaces brings into question the role of the teacher and the institution as a whole. (Conole, 2012), The use of hybrid learning spaces have been advocated for by some, as they are seen to encapsulate the best of both worlds, leveraging the value of teachers while providing other virtual opportunities. (Johnson et al., 2014)
Current educational thinking also hints at the roll that aesthetics have to play in encouraging creativity. Scott- Webber suggests that “Furnishings make a difference” (Scott-Webber, 2012. p 4), Boy’s champions that architecture is important (Boys, 2011 cited in Conole, 2012) and Temple “speculatively suggests” that particular design elements and features can foster creativity and lead to innovation. (Temple, 2008) This is however, another area that requires further research. (Temple, 2008)
flickr photo by dcJohn http://flickr.com/photos/dcjohn/74907741 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
flickr photo by Gary Hayes http://flickr.com/photos/garyhayes/3252395404 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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flickr photo by StockMonkeys.com http://flickr.com/photos/86530412@N02/7975205041 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
flickr photo by jisc_infonet http://flickr.com/photos/jiscinfonet/2346769059 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license
Retrieved from https://ww.youtube.com?watch?v=Se8kcnU
It is important at this point to discuss the term 'learning space', as it can have a number of interpretations dependent on perspective (Boys, 2011). For example, an architect or designer may view space as the physical setting in which learning occurs. For educational theorists, it may be purely conceptual or absent entirely. (Boys) Educational authorities and institutions may define learning spaces by cost, and for teachers and students, learning spaces are “physical, virtual, organizational and durational frameworks into which a variety of activities must be fitted” (Boys, 2011, p. 9).

This creates a number of contradictions and difficult intersections, all of which are worth considering. For the purpose of this essay however, we will be concentrating on the concept of learning space from the perspective of teachers and students.

Retrieved from: https://ww.youtube.com/watch?v=96WQohIeWNE
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The technologically saturated 21st Century is challenging traditional conceptions of space. We want our learners to be more creative, self-motivated and connected, yet the walls of many schools and educational institutions are sending a different message. (Wesch, 2010) In many cases, there is still a contradiction between what we know our students need (Scott-Webber, 2012), and the pedagogically outmoded spaces in which they are learning. (Leather and Marinho, 2010)

There has been growing interest in the importance of educational spaces in recent years, (Boys, 2011) and there is consensus about the substantial impact that learning space design has on the shape of learning (Brown et al., 1999, Oblinger, 2006, Watson, 2007, cited in SKG report, 2011, p. 3).

This essay will examine the types of learning spaces which will be most appropriate for 21st century learners by exploring how the concepts of collaboration, participatory learning and creativity sit alongside current research into the types of new learning spaces which are being developed, or which might be needed, to enable such ideas.

This brings us to the question of learning spaces. What types of learning spaces are best suited to enable collaboration, creativity and innovation for 21st century learners?

Debates surrounding learning spaces appear to be predominately centered on constructivist theories, suggesting that there is agreement that learning is an active process. (Boys, 2011) For example, the SKG project report (2011) states that “environments which welcome and encourage active user input also encourages active learning and knowledge generation” (SKG p.1) Likewise, JISC (2015) advocate for design that encourages conversation, which they see as “central to a collaborative model of learning” (JISC, 2015, p.7)

The following case studies reflect the growing belief that spacial configurations of classrooms can facilitate collaborative and participatory learning.
Retrieved from: https://ww.youtube.com/watch?v=T2DrNJhz-XE
Explore JISC and SKG further:
JISC http://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/learning-spaces
SKG http://www.documents.skgproject.com/skg-final-report.pdf
Space to learn

Another key area for consideration is Technology. Today’s learners view technology as integrated into their daily lives (JISC, 2015 p. 3) and as such, it is suggested that educational institutions need to provide spaces in which technology is “ubiquitous and deeply embedded in learning spaces” (JISC, p.3). The rapid change and growth of technologies, combined with an increase in mobile devices has meant that there is also advocacy for the idea of BYOD. (Johnson et al., 2014) This in turn brings up the need to provide adequate technical support for our learners and to future proof our learning spaces. In the framework for the design of future proof learning spaces (2011) produced by the SKG project, the group propose that learning spaces should be easily reconfigurable to accommodate changing technology. (SKG, p.1). Temple (2008) also supports the need for flexible spaces
Retrieved from: https://ww.youtube.com/watch?v=cbo1paLtYHk&index=12&list=PL45F5E0911052CD63
Academic and leading designer Peter Jamieson suggests that the design task of any physical or virtual learning space is to “create environments capable of supporting intended behaviors” (Jamieson, 2008, cited in Boys, 2011, p.16). Likewise, Director of Steelcase Education Solutions, Lennie Scott-Webber believes it critical that “learning behaviors should be identified” before we can plan different learning spaces which cater for “new forms of learning” (Scott-Webber, 2012, P.4).

It makes sense then, that in order to inform the design process the place to start must be to articulate the learning behaviors and practices of today’s learners.
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Re-thinking 21st century learning environments to enable creativity, collaboration and learner-led innovation.
To conclude, when planning for learning spaces we need to consider current learning behaviours of today’s learners. Clearly, it is not appropriate for educational institutions to assume that knowledge can be “delivered to the student” (Jamieson, 2009, p.1) as more and more, knowledge creation is a socially constructed process. (Jamieson, 2009)
Educational institutions should be technology rich, however, technology must be viewed as the servant rather than the master and as such, should be driven by pedagogy.

Although there is no one size fits all, learning spaces should aim to encourage collaboration, participation and creativity. They should also attempt to accommodate both formal and informal learning practices, however, as there is insufficient research into the relationship between design, space and learning (Boys, 2011) this must be addressed with caution. More research needs to be undertaken in this area and into the roll of aesthetics in learning space design. (Temple, 2008)

Finally, when designing spaces for learning, institutions, educators and designers must work in unison to assert what is needed, predict what is coming and find holistic solutions, to bring about the change that is so urgently needed. (Scott-Webber, 2012).

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