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Ian Caldwell, Michelle Morgan, Dr John Craig, Andrew Kane, David Morris and Judy Friedberg

Enhancing learning via innovative spaces

Architects FaulknerBrowns held a recent forum to explore ways of enhancing the learning experience within higher education

Posted by Hannah Oakman | June 12, 2015 | Interiors

The Forum, chaired by Guardian HE editor Judy Friedberg, welcomed higher education experts from across the UK to share their ideas.

Speakers included Ian Caldwell, Facilities Advisor at King’s College London, Dr John Craig, Higher Education Academy’s Senior Director, Michelle Morgan, Student Experience Manager from Kingston University and finally David Morris, Project Officer from NUS.  

Here, FaulknerBrowns Partner Andrew Kane, looks at the main ideas discussed.

Universities are seeking to improve the effectiveness of their building designs right across the campus; from student accommodation through to the lecture theatre. At the HE Forum there was a general consensus that we are now entering a new ‘Value Era’, where high tuition fees are driving a desire to significantly improve the quality of the teaching and learning experience. The Forum questioned strongly whether improvements in teaching and learning spaces have stagnated, and with social learning space becoming ubiquitous, whether we need now to look ‘beyond the beanbag’.

At the Forum I was able to talk about our recent study trip to the US. After visiting some of the world’s top 10 business schools, including Harvard and Yale, where teaching spaces, group sizes and learning spaces were explored, some key lessons were learnt. In particular, the importance of ‘Active Learning’ and the need for collaboration, interaction and flexibility within the learning environment was seen.

The common theme in all of the exceptional teaching spaces visited in the US was the degree of collaboration. Traditionally the lecture theatre is a 100-400 ‘delivery style’ space where the level of interaction and collaboration is low. The passive nature of these spaces has driven a number of business schools to develop more effective collaboration focused teaching space models. Collaboration, in the form of active interaction and engagement, is the governing issue which distinguishes the nature of the learning space and its response to the pedagogical intent. Two distinct forms were identified; a ‘macro collaboration’ type of space stimulating interaction and engagement for the entire lecture group, and a ‘micro collaboration’ type of space using active learning principles to stimulate improved learning for small groups. In both instances overall lecture groups of 100 were maintained, meaning that a large space does not have to mean a low level of collaboration or poor student experience and this ensures that facilities costs need not rise. Furthermore, collaborative (active) learning has been proven to increase conceptual understanding and in turn raise the course pass rate.

To facilitate this collaboration, the need for stimulating learning environments is becoming increasingly apparent. The importance of a space to work together, a space to experiment and a space to think, read and write is becomingly increasingly necessary. In particular, ‘project rooms’, where pre-learning and reflection can be carried out, are critical components for collaborative learning. The need to meet and work in groups to prepare for classes drives the need for large quantities of these small ‘project rooms’. To date the UK has not woken up to the value such spaces can offer to the teaching and learning experience.

Increasingly, radical models of space and pedagogy can be seen across higher education. One striking example of this is the ‘virtual campus’ being trialled at Harvard Business School. Here students live stream into the lecture whilst only the lecturer remains in the room. In leading business schools the ‘delivery style’ lecture is becoming only a small element of the university experience. Now the focus is increasingly about interaction, social and collaborative learning in a range of different spaces. The traditional delivery form of teaching space is by no means defunct but has a role to play in amongst a potentially greater diversity of spaces.

Through extensive benchmarking, study visits and conversations with leading educators, we at FaulknerBrowns have developed a clear understanding of the means by which an excellent learning experience can be delivered. Designers must work in partnership with educators to achieve the balance of people, pedagogy, systems and space. 


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