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21st century learning space

July 12, 2019


Part 2 – Flexible learning space

FLEXIBILITY is the hallmark of today’s learning spaces. The traditional classroom where teacher and students meet and finish teaching a class at a set time is no longer today’s kind of learning space and schedule. No longer are chairs or desks arranged in neat rows facing a blackboard. No longer would there be a platform placed near a blackboard where the teacher can get a better view of the students while lecturing to the class, spouting her wisdom, or (is it mere knowledge?). For today, the metaphor of the teacher as the sage on the stage is much outdated. Nor the metaphor of the teacher as the fountain of wisdom filling up the vessels before him or her. The formal classroom and the quiet library no longer have the monopoly as the setting of serious learning with the usual “Please Do Not Disturb” sign. Given attendant changes in teaching and learning approaches and the new modes in assessing learning in this Knowledge Age, how do universities plan to adjust the design of campuses — space and facilities — to maximize opportunities from this century’s pedagogy?

‘The learning landscape’ in universities. As described in a review of literature on planning university buildings and space, “University space may be thought of as: the campus; the university in the city; a community; individual buildings; spaces intended for teaching and learning; and other spaces.” As to campus design, “some are large claims” to physically demonstrate “the university’s mission to knowledge and society.” The same review noted that there are “rare instances of university architecture providing space that is both functional and may offer inspiration to learners and their teachers.” “. . . most university buildings do not possess these qualities, and the vast bulk of the higher education estate consists of a legacy of buildings of varying designs and qualities” <…/237472897_Learning_spaces_for_the_21st_century_A_.> The review notes that the design of the learning landscape around the campus and within buildings could help create “a sense of belonging, as well as facilitating peer group discussion and thus informal learning.” What would then be affordable features that can best provide a teaching and learning atmosphere to induce interactive learning amongst our students and with their mentors? What features would induce more peer group discussions both in and outside buildings and at the same time providing conveniently for the use of the internet facilitating a convenient reach of the online public access catalog (OPAC) and other such library digital sources, enabling students to discuss topics virtually with experts? There is a broad acceptance that such features could be installed in campus designs of its buildings, in its other facilities and outside space.

Learning space in a university campus. What physical features in different university settings can best provide students a sense of belonging, that they feel “at home” in their school, thus, feel it a pleasure to learn? What could be building designs of space to “facilitate the changing pedagogical practices” of this century? A website informs “that the design of the ‘the learning landscape,’ around the campus and within buildings, can help create a sense of belonging, as well as facilitating peer group discussion and thus informal learning.” <… /237472897_Learning_spaces_for_the_21st_century_A_> The same source further says that “good environmental conditions — temperature, humidity, noise control and lighting — are also prerequisites for learning.” Campus discourse for learning can take place among students as they take lunch in the school canteen. Or when they are seated next to one another whilst waiting for their ride to bring them home or whilst walking to their dormitories. This apparent connection between day-to-day maintenance and learning should be a concern of institutional management.”

Why a flexible learning space. Today’s learning environment—particularly the classroom—is personalized. This means that the classroom is customized to fit a variety of “instructional methods and strategies.” The design of tables or desks could be such as to allow learners in pairs or groups of three or more to match the teaching and learning approach/method. Education experts suggest that teaching and learning space be determined by knowing the different ways an individual and groups of students learn and what activities teachers/academics conduct or have students conduct, “based on needs, preferences, and interests.” Personalized learning fosters in students the desire to reflect on topics they are interested in—hence, pursue their learning objectives. The teacher’s role is as a facilitator of learning, having in mind the diversity of students in their gift of talents, interests, and objectives of their chosen concentration or major field of study which as in any academic discipline has basic requirements and major subjects, as well. When students learn in shared spaces, engaged with their classmates, learning becomes collaborative. They tend to learn “more effectively than when they simply take notes or listen to a lecture”; intellectual discourse is alive and active thinking occurs. As a source points out, in “the 21st century classroom, teachers are facilitators of student learning and creators of productive classroom environments in which students can develop the skills they will need in the workplace.”

Flexibility of teaching and learning space, equipped with convenient reach to digital technology, makes possible various ways in the lay-out of a classroom to promote interactive activities both actual and virtual. “Through new learning spaces which amalgamate physical and virtual elements, teachers have the opportunity to increase the flexibility and efficacy of learning models, allowing for greater student interactivity and development.”


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