Learning Spaces

by Jeff Johnston, Assistant Director, Vanderbilt Center for Teaching

This teaching guide contains a variety of information for those thinking about innovative learning environments. The development of computer technologies (such as the Internet) combined with the shift from a transmission notion of teaching and learning towards a constructivist notion of teaching and learning has led to a re-thinking about what constitutes an effective learning environment (see Malcolm Brown's article below for a full exploration of these themes).

Few classrooms in higher education incorporate aspects of design and technology (computer technology as well as furniture technology) that maximize the potential for teaching and learning. This teaching guide is an attempt to collect together links to articles, examples, and other resources reflecting the current best thinking about the possibilities for learning spaces that truly maximize the potential for teaching and learning.

General Resources

Most ELI (Educause Learning Initiative) resources are available only to ELI members. Vanderbilt is a member of the ELI, so if you are a part of the Vanderbilt community, you should have access to this Discovery Tool and other ELI resources. See the ELI website for access instructions.

A website with an extensive list of references created by Linda Garcia and Homero Lopez, documenting their work with innovative learning spaces, primarily at Estrella Mountain Community College in Arizona.

A great set of resouces from the Joint Information Systems Committe (JISC), a UK-based organization supporting education and research. Of particular interest on this site is a 36-page PDF document entitled "Designing Spaces for Effective Learning: A Guide to 21st Century Learning Space Design."

  • Project Kaleidoscope

    The mission of Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) , a national organization, is to advocate for the building and sustaining of strong undergraduate programs in the STEM disciplines. The document linked to above entitled "Planning Spaces that Make a Difference: Critical Questions" is an excerpt from a PKAL Facilities Planning Workshop held at Drury University.
  • Center for Research on Learning and Teaching: Guidelines for Learning Spaces

    The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan has created this website which provides recommendations for the renovation and construction of learning spaces. The site provides guidelines for the common issues that apply to learning spaces as well as specific issues that apply to particular types of learning spaces.


  • Commons 2.0: Library Spaces Designed for Collaborative Learning

    Bryan Sinclair of the University of North Carolina at Asheville discusses ways in which today's libraries must adapt to the Web 2.0 world and become collaborative and interactive spaces that foster student learning in new and creative ways. This article originally appeared in a 2007 edition of the Educause Review.

  • Flexible Space & Built Pedagogy: Emerging IT Embodiments

    This paper analyzes the convergence of information technology infrastructures and traditional educational spaces and proposes flexible criteria for material-virtual, hybrid learning environments. Torin Monahan developed the concept of built pedagogy to account for the ways that built environments teach values through their constraints upon social action and interaction and suggest ways that the built pedagogies of hybrid spaces can facilitate learning by inviting students and teachers to participate in the continual re-design of learning structures. This paper was published in the Inventio journal at George Mason University in 2002.

  • Leading the Transition from Classrooms to Learning Spaces

    In this 2005 Educause Quarterly article, author Diana Oblinger discusses the changing notion of the classroom and provides a guideline to administrators who are directly or indirectly involved in the development of learning spaces.

  • Learning Spaces

In this chapter from the 2005 Educause book Educating the Net Generation, Malcolm Brown explores some of the challenges presented by "net generation" students and the opportunities provided by new instructional technologies and changing ideas about how people learn. The article includes three scenarios for ways in which innovative learning spaces can transform our ideas about teaching and learning.

This brief article discusses the shift of focus from “classroom” to “learning space” brought about by the integration of technology into teaching and learning. It originally appeared in a 2003 edition of Educause Quarterly.

  • The Psychology of Learning Environments

    In this chapter from the 2006 Educause book Learning Spaces, author Ken Graetz uses the fictitious setting of a classroom at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to explore a few of the fundamental ideas of environmental psychology and their relation to teaching and learning.
  • Radical Flexibility and Student Success

    Dr. Homero Lopez, founding president of Estrella Mountain Community College in Arizona, discusses with Educause Vice President, Diana Oberlin, his institution's approach to designing learning spaces that engage students using a concept he calls "radical flexibility". This interview was shared in the January/February 2006 edition of Educause Review.

Edited Volumes and Books

Examples of Innovative Learning Spaces

Wallenberg Hall includes 4 classrooms, a learning theater and a variety of breakout spaces. The classrooms and the learning theater are equipped with the latest instructional technologies to facilitate teaching and learning. The Wallenberg Hall website includes a variety of information about ongoing projects, examples of innovative uses of the classroom spaces, and more.

The Center for Better Health includes two ten-thousand square foot facilities designed for groups of 2 to 140 people to work collaboratively. The furniture and environments were designed and built by Athenaeum International.

In the summer of 2008, the Center for Teaching relocated to a new space designed to create a vibrant, inviting and flexible learning environment, open to the entire Vanderbilt teaching community.


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