Society is confronted with an evolving ‘learningscape’ where typical models of tertiary education are now being developed into a more hybrid and holistic model.
Students are evolving and there is a new vernacular – a digital vernacular. We must appreciate that students of today learn in different ways and from this, shift our focus from education to life-long learning. Teritiary has shifted from the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ generation to the now ‘E’ generation way of thinking.
Designing the ideal tertiary learning environment for students is a difficult task. Learning environments are designed to suit or support particular learning theories. There are many different theories of how people learn and it is interesting to think about your own particular way of learning and to recognise that everyone does not learn the way you do. Traditionally they fall under three broad schools of thought—behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism.
By considering these theories in conjunction with the physical and material conditions that surround and affect our learning process, we are able to form key insights for designing appropriate learning environments. The psychology of learning needs to have the ability of being interpreted spatially.
Warren and Mahoney believes you are a product of your environment.
Careful consideration to where building and open spaces are located is critical to working with how students learn. The holistic approach will create ‘places of learning’, not just ‘spaces for learning’.
From a traditional sensory stimulation theory (Laird, 1985), the effects from learning occurs when the senses are stimulated. Vast majority of knowledge held (75%) is learned through seeing. Spaces designed to stimulate these senses, especially the visual sense, learning can be enhanced. Stimulation through the senses is achieved through a greater variety of materials, textures, colours, volume of spaces, strong architectural form. Visual and accessible connections to other spaces and other course disciplines promotes cross pollination of ideas, knowledge and learnings.
We have more recently seen tertiary institutions departing from the traditional behavioural and cognitive-based learning theories and participating in the constructivism learning theories. This is where learning is a process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring – enabling a process of making meanings from experience. The responsibility of learning is with the learner.
Successful models of this practice include the training of architects. The learning environment is predominantly based on studio atmosphere where design work is presented in a public forum allowing each student to see their peer’s work. Every student can witness their peers’ thinking, processes and opinions and advice from internal and external critics is offered on the student’s work. The students are beginning to adapt into the practice of being an architect.
Around 75% of learning is via social interaction and reflection spaces. Suddenly “social spaces” such as cafes, study / lounge rooms and stairwell landings are critical elements of a learning environment. These learning environments are design-based as ‘student-centric’, collaborative, co-operative, and experiential. Learning opportunities are not restricted to the classroom and lecture theatres – students read in hallways, study in cafes and take classes outside.
Flexible study spaces and atria are communal social areas that enable student and staff interaction and provides learning environments that are flexible and adaptable for a variety of uses.
The learningscape is changing, boundaries are blurred between internal and external spaces and ways of teaching has broadened. Architecture has a fundamental role in shaping our learning environments by creating ‘places of learning’ and not just ‘spaces for learning’.