Educator Development

A Guide for Learning Space Design

Guest post by Robert Dillon

The race is on in many schools and districts to design brain-friendly, modern classrooms and buildings. As research suggests, learning space design impacts student growth, and the answer for some schools and districts is to buy new furniture.

Though furniture can play a role in supporting positive changes through modern learning spaces, racing to buy furniture is also the fastest way to achieve a small impact on learning and perpetuate a fad-chasing culture.

To avoid this, it is essential to ask a question central to high-impact learning spaces: What are your verbs?

This can be a confusing question on the surface, but is key for all teachers and leaders working on space design changes. The verbs of a space, such as explore, discover, create or make, help to guide purpose for instructional practices in that space, technology tools used to support that space and design that allows the space to be supportive for students.

Once teachers and schools establish the verbs of a space, decisions become design-focused. Without this focus, decisions surrounding learning spaces can take the form of decoration, convenience or replication of the purchases of other schools and districts.

Knowing the central verbs of a learning space also opens up a new conversation about what mindsets are encouraged for students.

  • Is the classroom a place where the pursuit of knowledge is central or a place where students create, make and design?

  • Is it a space that leads to the knowledge needed to be successful in doing these verbs well?

For some schools and districts, design conversations arise from a desire to increase joy and engagement, while others try to maximize the potential benefits of technology tools. Regardless of the reason, it is important for all of us to take steps toward more robust conversation.

The verbs of a learning space can serve as an opener for conversation between students, educators and the community. It can also lead to practical changes and the use of all spaces in the building for learning. I examine these concepts in greater detail in my course, Designing Brain-Friendly Learning Spaces. In this digital learning space, we focus on three verbs: discover, consider and tinker. We believe these verbs surround the content and learning, making it an accessible course for many educators.

As the learning space train leaves the station, it is essential to ride in the engine, surrounding yourself with the verbs and purpose of the work. Stay far away from the caboose, where fads are founded in unfulfilled learning landscapes.

Dr. Robert Dillon serves the students and community of the Affton School District as Director of Technology and Innovation. His first book, “Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow’s Schools Today“, is now available.