Learning and Architecture

I was prompted by Howard to think more about the intersection of Learning and Architecture. Howard states:

I’ve been thinking about how to create educationally relevant physical and social spaces for networked everyday learning. The similarity is in the importance of physical space and tacit learning.

And poses the question:

So . . . how do you think that architecture can help design diverse boundary social spaces where learning can occur in everyday and serendipitous circumstances.

Being a complete novice at architecture, and mindful of constraints of space, time and money in countries like ours, responding to Howard is difficult. The few things I have come across in Learning Space Design (Johnson and Lomas, Brown, Oblinger) make me think the ideas are interesting because they are taking the habits, behaviors, preferences, teaching and learning styles more suited for the new generation and intersecting them with solutions that can respond to these behaviors.

On the other hand, the web-social and physical learning spaces now have examples with initiatives like CCK08, EdFutures, spaces on virtual worlds like SecondLife and the designs mentioned in the above links.

But I think that there are a few spaces I would like to design – from perhaps an intuitive, self satisfying perspective – but spaces where I would feel happy learning in. These spaces would have to conform to a few aspects:

  • They would have to immerse me in the content I want to learn about – not just digitally, but also experientially – not just for a moment, but for the entire duration of my learning.
  • They would have to be spaces that are free-form, encouraging group collaboration as well as have a way that is unlike the traditional lecture hall design for a facilitator/teacher to address students
  • They would have to be open, in the sense that I can leverage more resources than just my peers and the instructor and that there are many other sources that influence and inspire
  • They have to be intelligent, draw and engage everyone in the classroom, providing the teacher a way to judge intensity of involvement
  • They have to be analytic – be able to track learning actions and allow the teacher to modify the course of the class dynamically
  • They have to be interactive – be able to give me ways of resolution of my issues and engage with content immersively
  • They have to take advantage of location – in a world where we are digitizing increasingly, the value of a location is starting to diminish
  • They must have simulated components – components that enable me to operate in a constrained world, yet at the same time allowing me to make mistakes
  • They must have tools for structured collaboration – like a Six Thinking Hats tool

In essence, I would design a classroom that is immersive, open, experimental, has structured tools coexisting alongside informal learning, participatory and where the teacher has real-time tools and data on the group.

How do these ideas result in an architectural design? This would depend on time, effort and most importantly, money. My challenge to architectural experts (as also learning technologists) would be to design spaces that can keep these features while keeping costs low and replication easy, particularly from a developing country. The sheer number of physical classrooms required in these countries are enough to sustain enough businesses over a long period of time, provided they address considerations such as these and others like environment protection, terrain, infrastructure etc. as well.

I would also understand and agree that designing a new architecture for learning also needs to take into account teaching methodologies and curricula, as well as account for cultural differences. Some of my ideas may be very specific based on influences that theories such as Connectivism have had on me and maybe altogether irrelevant in traditional space or even social space) design. But I hope some of this makes sense. Thanks for providing an opportunity for me to think and research about these idea, Howard!

2 thoughts on “Learning and Architecture

Add yours

  1. Viplav;
    Thanks for the thoughtful post, conversation and the linked resources. I am alway grateful for the stimulation of my thinking and I will be working through those resources for awhile.
    Neither am I an Architect, but as the world becomes hyper-specialized, I think it requires more cross-disciplinary collaboration. These are excellent points and what I would imagine a cross-disciplinary conversation with an architect would sound like.
    Forgive me for the audacity, but I would like to challenge two perceptions I perceive in your post.
    #1 “the value of a location is starting to diminish”. The point made by people like John Hagel and Richard Florida is that as people become more connective digitally, location, counter-intuitively, is becoming even more important (In my view, it is likely because of the increasing importance of collaboration, and location is still important for collaboration in most instances, but the “jury” is still out on the why). Richard Florida, as an economist, looks at the big picture; how creative talent is becoming more concentrating in certain urban areas where the creative cross-pollination of ideas can easily occur. I, as an educator, am interested in the little picture, what is the nature of the micro-environments where that creative interaction happen and can it be designed. That is the source of my interest in architecture. How can we design everyday creative spaces that support everyday performance.
    #2 The implication that learning is closely associated with schools and classrooms. I believe that people want to be in environments that are vibrant, energetic, fresh, filled with opportunity; where living and learning go “hand in hand”. I think the built environment has a role in creating this environment, but this is for everyday living environments, not just learning institutions. (I have more on this topic here http://howardjohnson.edublogs.org/2010/07/26/architecture-for-learning-the-importance-of-the-built-environment/)
    Here is also a post on what some of this thinking might mean for education and learning http://howardjohnson.edublogs.org/2010/08/01/from-push-to-pull-it-will-change-what-education-means/
    I am moving toward the idea that learning occurs everywhere for all times and that schools are less for learning specific stuff than it is for helping students grow into intellectual, emotional, personal and interpersonal maturity (and sometimes for an introduction to a specific discipline of the students choosing). Part of this is that I believe that we need to allow for discovery learning in the fullest sense. Our model of education is centralized and planned; and there is a place for centralization,but there is also a need for discovery. Most people (maybe even Dewey himself to a certain extent) consider discovery learning as just a method to implement a centralized planned curriculum, but discovery learning is more in line with Hagel’s idea of “Pull”. But I digress, and I shall desist!!!
    Till later – and Thanks again!


  2. Thanks, Howard. Yes, I am fighting the perception that the value of location is diminishing and that is why I provided the link for how location aware apps are providing rich possibilities, as also the concept that the world may not be flat – but spiky.

    I am guilty as charged of ignoring other sites of learning and performance in my post – in Hagel’s example of surfers, that is exemplified. I am in also aware that location based apps are layering learning and performance data on top of location – sort of a Web 3.0 data layer – which again bring location (not just the classroom location) to the forefront of discovery and experience.

    Centralized vs decentralized discovery oriented environments – thats a tension that has many other facets – not just the technological or connective or infrastructural – but I found examples long back with the Wested report on Tales from the Electronic Frontier that demonstrated simple ways in which students from various parts of the world could collaborate to learn something new involving aggregation of location specific experimentation results and shared analysis.

    Thanks for your comments!


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