Designing Learning Spaces for the 21st Century

Feb 16
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Much has been written over time about what constitutes good learning space design in schools.  The problem (or opportunity) however, is things change.

In the last few decades in particular there has been massive change in education. 

In terms of curriculum, the adoption of the Australian Curriculum in each state has had significant impact on what teachers teach and in implementation, the learning process.  Facility design has changed accordingly.

Changing approaches to learning

For example, in the latter part of the 20th century in WA, outcomes based education formally required teachers to look at where students are and then help them move to their next levels.  The accent therefore was on individualised learning. At the same time ‘middle schooling’ had become a focus, particularly in schools with significant numbers of students disengaging from schooling.

Project based learning, with integration across learning areas, was strongly supported as a way of contextualising learning. Some refer to this period as the ‘renaissance in schooling’ due to its rapid departure from traditional schooling.  My school, Canning Vale College was designed to respond to this era. The school was built with large open learning areas with the latest in technology innovations.

Fourteen years on, the curriculum has changed. In WA, a year specific curriculum is in place and there is NAPLAN and a similar set of literacy and numeracy tests for year 10, 11 and 12 students. Many would say that system measures are more about the overt curriculum and less about a child’s social and emotional development. Our universities no longer train ‘middle school’ teachers. Whether or not it is the best outcome for students, learning space design in this period has changed. 

The pendulum of change

As a science teacher I am always talking about the pendulum of change. Change involves swings against the popular force at the time, but when the pendulum tries to return to the past it never quite gets there.

My contention in learning space design is that it should be flexible. It should allow for change.  Every time you construct a load bearing wall you limit the possibilities for the future.  We should always try to make learning spaces good for the teachers and students in the current era of education but in reality schools cost a lot of money and planners look at significant lifespans. 

We need to keep an eye on what might be, and plan in flexibility for the future.

Ron Bamford will be speaking on ‘Designing learning spaces for change’ at the Learning Space Design Conference this May. Book your place by February 26th to save $400 on ticket prices.  

Learning Space Design

Submitted by Ron Bamford

Ron Bamford

Ron Bamford has been a secondary school principal in the WA government system since 1992. In 1999, Ron took some time off and ventured into management consulting with UNISYS. During this time he worked with AXA, Queensland Main Roads and Bankwest conducting environmental scans and helping them use improved processes and IT to streamline their business. While private enterprise was refreshing, the attraction to education and the role of a Principal remained. He returned to education and in 2004 built a new school called Canning Vale College. At the time the school was at the bleeding edge of innovation with open classroom design and innovative use of technology. In 2006, Canning Vale College made it into OECD compendium of exceptional educational facilities.

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