What I’ve Learnt About Flexible Learning Spaces
If you’re in education, no doubt you’ve come across the term “flexible learning spaces.” This concept is founded on the idea of “designing communal spaces which can be configured in a number of ways for specific learning experiences. This means they provide opportunities for people to work together in collaborative and exciting ways.”
In other words, students are given the choice to choose what type of learning space – within the classroom – works best for them.
I have been fortunate to work in both primary and secondary schools that promote this approach in their classroom spaces. Below is what teaching in these spaces has taught me so far…
Inspiring spaces promotes inspired learning
I’m a big believer that the nature of the space will impact the student (and teacher’s) mood. If you’re learning in an open, bright space with colourful furniture that can be easily rearranged to suit the lesson – I believe you will also be more inspired to be innovative, creative and think outside the box. The layout of the room isn’t holding you back. Even as a teacher, I have felt this way.
I see this day in, day out with my students. Children and teenagers alike love flexible learning spaces. The classrooms I’ve taught in have had everything from wall-to-wall glass, bean bags, couches, movable book cases to “wobblee” stools. And, they get to choose which of these seating arrangements they use and when! This, as you can imagine, sparks excitement in students. Gone are the days of straight, singular-lined desks and hard-back chairs. Now, they can work on couches, on the floor, on a stool, standing up looking out the window – in any way that sparks the creativity for them.
Students get easily distracted
Sometimes though, this excitement and engagement can move into the realm of “time-wasting”. With so many options and so much control over setting up their own learning environment, some students get distracted from the real task at hand – doing their actual school work!
I’ve found this to be the case with younger students in particular. As a teacher of a flexible learning space, I’ve learnt I need to be constantly watching students to ensure they have settled into their learning spaces quickly and have begun their work.
I believe further strategies may need to be implemented – such as a timer (this could be turned into a fun competition – who can be ready and working first?! First person gets a dojo point. Would love to hear any strategies you have used successfully). I’d prefer this to the threat of allocating them a table and chair of my choice. Either way though, it is essential to find ways to ensuring that the space inspires and promotes learning, not distracts from it.
We are preparing students for a 21st century world
As I’m writing this I am lazying on my couch, feet up on an ottoman and laptop perched un-ergonomically on my lap. Earlier, I was working from my home study, and yesterday I set myself up at the dining table. When at work, I move between my classroom Desktop PC, the generic Desktop PCs near the printers to working on my laptop in the computer lab or staff room. In other words, my work life is built around flexible learning spaces.
And I’m not alone. A growing number of workplaces and industries are moving towards flexible learning environments.
I have learnt that by providing students with flexible learning spaces at school, we are preparing them for the world beyond school – whether that’s university or the workplace. We are empowering them how to develop independent thinking, make their own choices and have the opportunity to work in a way that works for their individual needs.
It takes effort to use flexible learning spaces well
I’m going to be honest here. Making the most of a flexible learning space takes effort. With everything else you need to be thinking about and preparing as a teacher, often the last thing you want to worry about is the configuration of your classroom!
There have certainly been lessons where I’ve walked in, left the desks where I found them and asked the students to sit at them, and that was that. The classroom could have been one from 50 years ago, for all the use I made out of the movable furniture and comfy couches!
So, one of the biggest lessons I think I’ve learnt – is that I need to set aside the time to think about how I can maximise the spaces I have been fortunate enough to have. It’s not enough to just have the set-up, it takes the active involvement and the teacher and students to really make a flexible learning space work.
I would love to hear about your experiences with flexible learning spaces – do you love them? Hate them? How have you used them to good effect with your students?
My name is Kim Maslin, and I’m a West Australian educator who is passionate about digital technologies and developing healthy life-long learning habits. I provide a range of ICT-related seminars and workshops, as well as web design & digital marketing services. I am also a teacher and Digital Learning Coordinator. You can find out more about me here.