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A quick take on learning spaces for future-focussed learning

“We cannot predict the future, but we do sense that we have the power to shape it. So we need to take time to reflect: on what those possible futures are, which are the more desirable, and what it takes to realise them” (Laurillard, in Norris, Mason, Lefrere, 2003, p. III).


There are experts and futurists who provide a disparate range of opinions about the future of learning (Papert, 1990). In some visions future learning is community-based with strong elements of “service and citizenship” (Futurelab, 2012, n.p.), and in others it is education is based around informed-choice and learners are seen as independent consumers (Futurelab, 2012).  While it isn’t possible to predict the future, if we reflect on “what those possible futures are, which are the more desirable, and what it takes to realise them” (Laurillard, in Norris, Mason, Lefrere, 2003, p. III), then we can take an active part in preparing ourselves and also, perhaps, shaping change.

In a 2011 a study conducted in Europe reported that 86% of the experts surveyed felt that a high majority (71%, with only 13% disagreeing) believed that, by 2025, educators will have many roles as “guides, mentors, friends and partners in self-regulated, personalised and collaborative learning processes” (Redecker et al, 2011, p. 61). Facilitators will work, and learn, alongside learners as they work through their learning pathway, and will provide guidance and support when required (Redecker et al, 2011). Also, the boundaries between  ‘teachers’ or ‘experts’ and student, apprentice, or ‘novice’ can, and do, become blurred.

Emerging technologies in 2025, the report indicates, will play an important part in opening up new learning opportunities, learners (including the facilitators themselves) will have personalised learning plans that will give them the freedom to actively develop their talents.

By 2040 it is envisaged that the physical classroom will be all but defunct, and that virtual and physical studios will provide learning spaces. The focus of the learning itself shifts from a formal, intermittent process, to a continuous, interconnected effort, where concepts and contexts can be simulated and experienced by learners. There are a wide range of emerging learning technologies identified that are being posited as likely to have a big impact on learning and teaching.

Andragogy and learning spaces

The prevailing andragogic approach has swung towards active and collaborative learning, but the design of physical spaces do not always reflect this. The JISC 2006 guide states that “if we are to foster truly flexible, creative and adaptable minds, we need  to look more critically at the extent to which learning space designs promote innovative ways of thinking”.

Involving learners in aspects of the re-design is important. “This signals that  they can have a measure of control over the learning environment and  over their own learning” (JISC, 2006).

Specialised learning spaces and zones for activity

One way of conceptualising modern learning spaces is via ‘zoning’ for a typology of specialised learning (or workflows), and as such are designed for multiple-uses - some of which have important implications for group spaces. Each space therefore needs to provide a  range of resources, which will foster facilitator-to-learner, learner(s)-to-learner(s), and individual sessions, as well as opportunities to interact with the community, industry, and ‘bring in’ to work with them directly on something (virtually or physically) a range of mentors and leaders in the field.

A typology for such specialised learning spaces might include the following:

  • Thinking/conceiving spaces (spaces for deliberating)

  • Designing spaces (spaces for putting structure, order, and context to free-ranging ideas)

  • Presenting spaces (spaces for showing things to a group)

  • Collaborating spaces (spaces for enabling team activities)

  • Debating or negotiating spaces (spaces for facilitating negotiations)

  • Documenting spaces (spaces for describing and informing specific activities, objects, or other actions)

  • Implementing/associating spaces (spaces for bringing together related things needed to accomplish a task or goal)

  • Practicing spaces (spaces for investigating specific disciplines)

  • Sensing spaces (spaces for pervasively monitoring a location)

  • Operating spaces (spaces for controlling systems, tools, and complex environments)

(Long, & Ehrman, 2005, n.p.)

Practical considerations: Flexibility of spaces

Learners need to be able to  create their own zone by shifting furniture, choosing lighting, and adding, for instance, an augmented reality overlay to their environment.


The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the manifestations of growing connectivity, where people, devices, and objects are increasingly able to communicate on some level. One definition of the IoT is “Things having identities and virtual personalities operating in smart spaces using intelligent interfaces to connect and communicate within social, environmental, and user contexts” (European Commission, 2008, p. 6). From this hyperconnectivity, a number of social and commercial changes are predicted, as we become more energy efficient through the use of intelligent buildings, cars and cities, and social networks will “transcend physical boundaries” (European Commission, 2008, p. 6). Some of the implications for learning might include a greater ability to work on authentic projects across geographical locations, and where a physical location is shared, the digital resources and virtual spaces required can be in place, set up and ready to use.

Learning spaces need to be  flexible, multi-purpose, and focussed on the people using the space rather than the technology. These spaces should be designed to enable devices to be brought into the space, rather than fixed devices, such as desktop computers being provided.

The infrastructure to support the use of these devices has to be reliable, flexible, easy to access / use, and safe. Peripheral devices should either be wireless, or where this isn’t possible - e.g. re-charging - cables need to be built into the fabric of the building, and large number of power sockets included in a wide number of locations. Raised flooring, for example, allows  cabling to be extended or amended in the future.


Mobile learning

Capture/replay "think through": processing real-time recording (ad hoc) without destroying the social comfort of the group and while providing appropriate degrees of privacy; particularly challenging will be capturing audio in small-group conversations that occur when large classes meet in a single room (Educause, 2005).

  • Tablets

  • Smartphones

  • Laptops

  • Wireless keyboards/mice

  • Digital cameras

  • Digital media player (e.g. Apple TV)


Connected learning

  • Dynamically available bandwidth provisioned to and within a room, allowing students to safely access and download rich media objects without choking the local network segment (Educause, 2005)

  • Spaces for group or individual webinar / VOIP sessions

  • Wireless networks

  • Wireless-enabled devices

  • VOIP / webinar platforms

  • Video streaming

  • Multimedia projection

  • Synchronous collaboration spaces


Supported learning

  • Assistive technologies

  • Audio-visual prompts

  • Multimedia capturing facilities / devices

  • Virtual spaces to store and curate (cloud-based)

  • Spaces for gesture-based ‘whole body’ learning for students accustomed to touching, tapping, swiping, jumping, and moving as a means of engaging with, and building, knowledge and skills.

  • Spaces to experience simulations (virtual and physical)

Physical space and furniture

“The industrial teaching model of formal learning spaces has tended to result in over-illumination, hard hallways, fixed-seat classrooms, and hard surfaces.  Food and drink should be seen as an integral part of learning spaces, as should 24/7 hour access”  (JISC, 2006).

The ethos of zoned learning spaces is that “students decide on the configuration of the space and the technology they require for their purpose, and can use it for as long as required” (JISC, 2006).

Furniture needs to be easily reconfigured to match the size and purpose of group and individual work. These are going to be custom-made items that designed to support clearly articulated andragogic aims.

  • Learning spaces should be ‘soft’, and comfortable, and, most  importantly movable, so that that enable “spaces that learners can make their own” (JISC, 2006, p. 29)

  • Writeable surfaces everywhere - preferably that capture and store everything written on them

  • Movable partition walls should built in to allow for future expansion

  • Flexible furniture and wider doorways meet the needs of a variety of  learners, not only wheelchair users (JISC, 2006).

  • “Audiovisual cues and changes in  furniture layout can assist learners’ navigation around a building, and  help them to adjust their behaviour according to the purpose of the  space” (JISC, 2006).


The duration of access is, in part to offer flexibility for students who are working or who need quiet space away from the family home, but also to recognise that students who are engaged in their learning are likely to want to continue the irrespective of the clock.

The only bookable rooms should be a small number of spaces set aside for tutorial, workshops, group work, or student meetings – “the rest of the space is open access, on demand”  (JISC, 2006).


“The self-regulating building will manage dialogue and collaboration by  providing areas that invite group activities where silence is not expected, with quiet zones adjacent to windows, or separated by shelving” (JISC, 2006).

  • Conversation, mobile phone use and consumption of refreshments should be considered “natural adjuncts to learning” (JISC, 2006).

  • “Where a discreet meeting point is called for,  an inflatable ‘igloo’ wall can be brought in to provide a sound baffle” (JISC, 2006).

  • Traffic  through the centre can also be directed by varied arrangements of  internal structures, to avoid a concentration of noise and movement in  areas close to entrances  (JISC, 2006).


Learning spaces should be lit with natural light where possible...and subtle / individual lighting  options. “Learning areas  infused with natural light...provide an environment that is  easy and pleasurable to work in. Wireless connectivity within a brightly  lit atrium, learning café or open-plan social area will encourage  engagement in learning, and instil a desire to continue activities beyond  timetabled classes”  (JISC, 2006).


Technology experts (possibly a student role) rove the spaces, whilst  facilitators are on hand to offer support, ask questions, and engage learners in discussion about their learning.

Plasma  screens on both floors identify the roving support staff and remind  users of occasional drop-in workshops for skills development.   The flexibility of the Grid places a requirement on the student support  staff to be responsive and supportive and yet still be able to manage a  high-volume open-access resource.

Future proofing

We cannot anticipate future technological or pedagogic developments,  but can ensure that designs will accommodate change. “Investment in  higher specification mobile rather than fixed technologies, wireless as  well as wired networks, even bespoke furniture, may be justified when  the space can support a range of purposes, and be relatively easily  reconfigured” (JISC, 2006).



Futurelab. (2012). World 3: Only connect. Retrieved September 9, 2012 from

JISC. (2006). Designing Spaces for Effective Learning: A guide to 21st century learning space design. Retrieved July 2 2014 from

Laurillard, D. (2003). Foreword. In Transforming e-Knowledge: A revolution in the sharing of knowledge by Donald Norris, Jon Mason, Paul Lefrere. Society for College and University Planning: UK.

Long, P.D., & Ehrmann, S.C. (2005). Future of the Learning Space: Breaking Out of the Box. EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 40, no. 4 (July/August 2005): 42–58.

Norris, D., Mason, J., Lefrere, P. (2003). A Revolution in the Sharing of Knowledge  Transforming e-Knowledge. Michigan: Society for College and University Planning. Retrieved October 10, 2012 from

Papert, S. (1990). A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking About the School of the Future. Retrieved September 10, 2002, from

Redecker, C., Leis, M., Leendertse,M., Punie, Y., Gijsbers, G., Kirschner,P., Stoyanov, S., & Hoogveld, B. (2011). The Future of Learning: Preparing for Change. Seville, Spain: European Commission Joint Research Centre. Retrieved December 1, 2012 from


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