Wednesday, 12 January 2011

From PLACES to SPACES: Learning environments that inspire.

The imaginative design of spaces to shape learning behaviour is a topic that has always fascinated me. I grew up in an era where the idea was promoted that learning occurred only in a PLACE (Pupil, Lessons, Authority of the teacher, Classroom and Examination). Over the past decades there has been a paradigm shift which now promotes the idea of learning environments as SPACES (Social, Participatory, Adaptable, Collaborative, Enhanced-technologically and Sharing).

In the past two months I have attended two workshops on designing learning environments. The first was facilitated by Professor Peter Jamieson from Melbourne University. In his presentation, Peter emphasized that people learn through talking, touching and interaction. He described spatial types (individual, group, and social) to highlight the need for spatial designs that enable learning possibilities and also where potential limitations can be utilized to create new learning possibilities. He noted that issues of ownership and control, capacity, IT, security, special needs, social needs and collaborative working must all feature in the assumed possibilities that enhance learning experiences.

The most recent workshop I attended was delivered by Les Watson, formerly of Glasgow Caledonian University and currently consultant to the Joint Information Systems Committee e-learning programme on Technology Enhanced Learning Environments. Les emphasized the need to give leaners new pathways to explore and for designers to think of buildings as predictions. This calls for moving away from simply providing “services” to staging learning experiences. To Les, buildings are not simply about architecture, they should be edifices that create emotional effect and inspire the generation of ideas.

As a librarian I find it strange that there are still depressive library buildings whose floors are littered with shelves from corner to corner to the point where users have hardly any space to interact and socialize. Should libraries be focused on resource provision or service provision, should they be places for learning or spaces for generating ideas? Do we need library buildings or edgeless living environments that stimulate endless learning opportunities inspired by socialization, conversation, collaboration and even play? Thankfully Aberystwyth University Library is moving in the direction of creating a library space that inspires contemplation, collaboration and conversation.

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