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Purposeful Learning Spaces in a Nutshell


We talk about MLE and ILEs but, time and time again the first things people jump to usually include (and in no particular order) ‘Massive space’, “Noise’, ‘Lots of people’, ‘Busy’, ‘Free-range Learning’ and the reality is that you can spout off research and examples etc until you are blue in the face but the end result is usually the same: the eyes of our audience would rapidly glaze over and the brain would follow a train of thoughts that is more inline with the ‘latest rugby score, what’s for tea or who am I going to play with at lunchtime’. So how do we address this? How do we support students, parents and whānau to not only understand but embrace the direction of learning spaces and what it means for our learners?


After having the pleasure of working with Derek Wenmoth a few weeks back, the answer became glaringly obvious… is all about purposeful and meaningful learning and learning spaces and using imagery that reflects your audience to demonstrate this. So here are some examples of how it can be done:



Let’s start with the humble house, something that most people can relate to. What rooms are there? There is the kitchen, lounge, bathroom and bedroom….and each of these places have a specific purpose. For example, you are not likely to cook your sunday roast in your bedroom or have your daily shower in the lounge. And why? Well, put simply those spaces are not designed for those purposes and the resources are not available etc. So as you can see each space is made for it’s purpose and therefore used for that purpose.


Starting to see the connection now?


Let’s try another example:


The hospital, not my favourite place to be honest, but it does have a very clear purpose. Not only does the place itself have a purpose but parts within the building have specific purposes too. When you might have broken a bone, there is the X-ray department or if you are about you to have an operation there is the surgery ward and so on. The reality is that if you want to meet a specific need then you go to the place that meets that specific criteria….I mean it all reality you don’t want to be trying to deliver your first child in the cafeteria or have the surgeon carrying out your knee replacement in the reception area.


Ok, these were a few examples and I am sure that you can come up with many more of your own but the trick now is to relate it back to the teaching and learning at school in those flexible learning spaces. This is where the  work by David D. Thornburg comes in through his research article on “Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century”....this is where the spaces in a MLE, ILE or whatever you wish to call it, come in to play:

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This is just one way to get across the idea of purposeful learning spaces and I am sure you have many more so please do share:

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Comment by Sarah Whiting on August 12, 2015 at 11:14

Excellent wonderings Hazel and honestly something I hadn't even considered until now. At this point I don't have a defined answer but it has definitely promoted some thought and self reflection. 

I agree that such examples and metaphors could quite easily get lost in translation if not responsive to culture and individuals. 

My initial thoughts is that no set metaphor should be used...that it should response directly to the audience in question and maybe this example could come from discussion with the group. I am all for shared ownership of the journey and think that the discussions and questions is key to this. 

This is something worth delving further into and I would love to know other people's thoughts and suggestions too. 

Comment by Hazel Owen on August 11, 2015 at 13:01

Loved your post, Sarah! :) You're a gem.

I really like the way that drawing on examples can bridge personal experience and the unknown, intangible or not easily imaginable.

The only slight wondering I have is (and it's not directly related to learning spaces, but it is related to the use of examples and metaphor), do we need to keep in mind that many ideas of what a space is and is used for are culturally shaped shared understandings? This means that "logical reasoning followed by semantic association [is]... greatly affected by culture" (Onibere, 2001, p. 498). In other words, people will have a "semantic association between representations and their underlying concepts", which is "influenced by the choice of language...and metaphors chosen" (Onibere, 2001, p. 500).

So - I was wondering if you also had thoughts around how to help make metaphors either more culturally responsive to a range of cultures? Or is it enough to not make assumptions that associations may be different and that shared understandings need to be developed? Or is it as simple as ensuring that folks are involved in the conversation and 'negotiate' shared understandings?

Would love to hear what you reckon :)


Onibere, E. A., Morgan, S., Busang, E. M., Mpoeleng, D. (2001). Human-computer interface design issues for a multi-cultural and multi-lingual English speaking country – Botswana. Interacting with computers, 13(4), 497-512.

So, while drawing on concrete examples in a multi-cultural environment

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