What's all the fuss about learning spaces?

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Students learn different topics at different rates on different days in different ways. Understanding how they learn and what they need to learn next is important for generating real progress. Classroom design needs to reflect and prioritise these individualised learning goals. Some students need quiet places to withdraw to for research. Small groups need places to work intensively with a teacher. Spaces need to allow flexibility in their configuration and be easily adjusted as required. Students and teachers need choice.
Students of the Information Age should no longer be required to ˜sit down, be quiet and put [their] eyes on the blackboard' to ensure they are engaged. Learning is now student-centred and no longer setting-centred. Students are global citizens armed with significant prior knowledge and questions on any given topic. Inspiring them to learn involves piquing their curiosity and presenting them challenging, real-world goals. Classrooms, from the walls to the equipment, the furniture and the technology, need to entice the learner to want to know more.

Students have ease of access to a world of websites that can give them succinct and up-to-date information, how-to videos on solving problems, the ability to publish their own work, and programs that facilitate collaboration with students in the next room or the next continent. They are part of a global economy and perhaps even more significantly, a global classroom. They are producers not just consumers. Their voices are significant now, not just when they have graduated. These factors pose far greater challenges than moving from inkwells in desks or dismantling old blackboards.
For a global mindset to be reflected in a learning environment requires more than displaying flags along the wall or referring students to the world map. It necessitates celebrating diversity, accessing different languages and making tangible links with global experiences, grabbing the opportunities afforded by being hyper-connected.
What we learn, how we learn and where we learn best are all intimately related. Colours and design all have an impact. Desks with whiteboard surfaces allow students to demonstrate their thinking and then clean it away as a new idea develops. Couches and bean bags, standing desks, chairs that wobble or have in-built bike pedals all contribute to the changing look of the classroom.
Making our thinking and learning visible requires careful planning in setting up the physical and digital environments. Learning spaces need to invite collaboration and creativity, involvement in the local community as well as the global one, quiet reflection and robust discussion. So what's all the fuss about learning spaces? They are the canvas upon which great learning design is painted.

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