When designing a learning environment, it’s important to understand that learning is not merely about having our brains filled with information; it’s about the development of ideas, application of information, contextualisation and collaboration with others. It’s also about personal development and the ability to achieve headspace. Therefore, we need to provide a balance of personal and collaborative surroundings to allow people to learn in new ways. By better understanding the learning processes and environments, designers can choose the appropriate furnishings and upholstery to help students study better. By creating a variety of learning spaces in which study can take place, this will, in turn, foster creativity and personal development, and build strong relationships; offering students a sense of pride in what they do and the settings in which they learn.
We have identified four key types of learning environments; learner-centred, collaborative, focused and assessment. Each of these will require a variety of upholstery and furniture designs.
Here, we see more relaxed and collaborative settings that have replaced rooms in which rows of desks were traditionally arranged in front of a tutor. Team-based environments are common here too. This may consist of circular tables or soft seating at which teams of students work collaboratively with the instructor. Technology supports this also. Rather than having a single projector at the front of the room, wireless networking enables everyone to act as a presenter, either projecting work from their own device or sharing it remotely with others.
Here, we see settings that create positive feedback loops of development for individuals that use them to collaborate. Mistakes or a lack of understanding are treated as a chance for individuals and the group to improve. This encourages personal development and the formation of new ideas. Although some of these settings may resemble the traditional classroom, the processes involved and the culture represented are very different. The design of the room should emphasise that contributions of all members of a group are valid, and not just the instructor. Furniture that fosters inclusivity, group cohesion and the sharing of knowledge are vital for this environment. Those that provide a base for the day or fulfil breakout area needs are also popular.
This type of learning environment is based on the premise that everybody needs time and space to acquire their own skills and develop the knowledge to support their ideas.
Whilst libraries and private rooms remain crucial for these tasks, helping to minimise the interruptions of neighbours or devices, we are also seeing increased demand for private work booths and soft seating that offer superior visual, acoustic and territorial privacy wherever and whenever required by the student. These make the ideal place to focus without distractions. Small freestanding acoustic pod systems also provide the perfect breakout space for students to rest and escape from a busy learning environment. Whether working in solitude, focusing on a concentrated task or working as a small group, they offer the intimacy and privacy that is vital for modern methods of learning.
Formative assessments are usually ongoing and require upholstery and furniture that can facilitate feedback for students on a one-to-one basis. Soft seating that offers an intimate, comfortable and private environment is a popular choice in this scenario. On the other hand, summative assessments require more formal settings for tests and exams to take place.
Based on our knowledge and understanding of learning processes and environments, there’s never been a better opportunity to design and create outstanding learning spaces. They should acknowledge that different people learn in different ways, and students, therefore, should be provided with a variety of all types of learning spaces in which studying can take place; bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds of learning.
Above all, learning environments should foster creativity and personal development, build strong relationships, look towards the future and offer learners a sense of pride in what they do and the settings in which they do it.