December 4, 2023


It's Your Education

How to Design a Learning Commons

By: Randy Fielding, Cierra Mantz, Nathan Strenge

Issue: Most prevalent locations are intended as secondary areas, a location for breaking out from the classroom. But as colleges renovate from a traditional, classroom-primarily based technique to a learner-centered tactic, popular places become necessary hubs of learning and as such, need cautiously orchestrated design.

In new a long time, a learner-centered model of education and learning has develop into significantly well known.  As a consequence, we at Fielding Intercontinental see an rising trend in the vision statements of a lot of colleges: there is an emphasis on multiple pathways toward excellence and accomplishment for all students. These statements generally go on to get in touch with out particular scholar qualities and competencies these types of as holistic perfectly-remaining, vital wondering, resourceful trouble solving, technological and media literacy, interaction, and collaboration. At the same time, most educators have begun to admit that the physical discovering natural environment is a vital element in supporting their academic vision – the atmosphere can catalyze, or hinder, sought after competencies.

Just one type of area that will come up all over again and once again as possessing the opportunity to disrupt the isolated mother nature of the classroom design and align with the aims faculties have currently is the Mastering Commons.  A properly-designed Learning Commons supports just about every of the competencies colleges are hoping to foster in their learners therefore, it is an essential useful resource for any college searching for to accomplish learner-centered visions.  Despite people today seeking obtain to Commons, they are normally poorly designed and underutilized. So why do people today want them in the to start with area?

A perfectly-built Studying Commons is foundational for producing fluidly linked spaces that foster collaborative, interdisciplinary, and self-directed learning. A nicely-developed Commons attributes spatial diversity which would make it achievable to concurrently aid finding out experiences that incorporate a assortment of mastering modalities.  Spatial fluidity furthermore spatial diversity equals a form of spatial agility that responds to the real-time requirements of young ones and adults alike, making them great areas to cultivate dynamic communities developed on interactions, belonging, and agency. So, if Mastering Commons are so useful, and folks actively want them, what can record explain to us about why they are often ineffective?

As early as the open classroom second of the 1970s and later in the center faculty pod movement of the 1980s, the idea of communal finding out locations was explored. Eventually, these explorations unsuccessful for many motives, numerous of which have been spatial, including a absence of spatial range and constrained connections to the outdoor (just to name a couple) but some of the motives can also be attributed to a deficiency of qualified means and instructional programming in guidance of the model.

In the a long time considering the fact that architects and educators first attempted to disrupt the notion that the classroom should be the main location for discovering, we have designed considerable progress regarding how we can design the actual physical ecosystem to be an academic asset in the learning course of action.  This write-up will focus on the spatial design and style factors required for a properly-built Learning Commons.  Specifically, we’ll discuss 6 crucial features for flourishing Studying Commons:

  1. Potent indoor-out of doors connections
  2. Visible and permeable connections to adjacent spaces
  3. Varied action zones
  4. Varied furnishings, fixtures, and finishes
  5. Audio attenuation
  6. Obtain to water and storage

Robust Indoor-Outside Connections

We can see many aspects that guidance flourishing in the Structure Pattern sketch over. Foremost, a relationship to the exterior that offers purely natural light-weight and views is critical for nurturing a feeling of wellness. In The Extended Intellect, Annie Murphy Paul cites analysis that implies students’ skill to look outside the house enhances tutorial results. Regardless of the recognition of humans’ innate wish to be connected with mother nature, and exploration exhibiting its multilayered benefits, we see many flawed widespread places which are surrounded by classrooms–essentially, widened corridors–without a connection to the exterior. If the surrounding lecture rooms have organic light and the Discovering Commons does not, where will learners want to be?

An indoor-out of doors connection can also be bolstered via the use of normal creating components and finishes. In the photograph of Schiffer Collaborative School down below, we can see how the use of local stone, wooden, and pure gentle contributes to an atmosphere of magnificence and relaxed, mirroring the area landscape.

John Schiffer Collaborative College, Sheridan, Wyoming

Visual & Permeable Connections to Adjacent Areas

Potent visual connections and permeable boundaries involving spaces invite students to stroll, observe and interact with their peers and their environments within and out. Inside home windows, glass doorways, and movable walls supply learners the option to transfer exterior their lecture rooms into adjacent challenge labs, finding out studios, out of doors classrooms, and cave areas in which they can get the job done independently and/or in teams although nevertheless obtaining the gain of visual supervision by teachers–an vital aspect of basic safety.  In addition to visually connected protection, college students have the opportunity to hook up with four to six academics and all around 100-120 learners, vs . just one teacher and 20-30 college students in a regular classroom. As these, perfectly-built Studying Commons raises the odds that a learner will build a close relationship with an grownup and friends, improving their feeling of belonging.

In the picture under, from Saint Francis of Assisi Elementary, we can see how permeable boundaries and visible connections facilitate pupil autonomy and collaboration among the students and between learners and academics.

Saint Francis of Assisi Elementary, Kingston, Ontario

Varied Activity Zones

Studying is a sophisticated approach that comes about in lots of approaches therefore, it’s critical that the kinds of readily available spaces are created to help numerous learning modalities as properly as all areas of the discovering system. In get to design and style for this, spatial range is crucial.  In the Style and design Sample sketch at the commencing of the write-up, we see 3 activity zones: little group and personal, undertaking zone, and presentation.  While these a few zones are not exhaustive of the styles of zones a Discovering Commons may perhaps have, they give a framework for understanding how various zones can be made in a one open up area.  In addition to additional broadly defined activity zones, for times in which a learner requirements a quieter, customized space, we supply cave spaces, calming retreats, and more compact tables or booths for unbiased work and reflection. These places make it possible for college students to have individual place though still being visually related to other individuals.

In the image below, from South Clearfield Elementary, we can see how cave spaces supply a sense of partial enclosure–a room to experience safe, go through quietly, and look out with curiosity and speculate.

South Clearfield Elementary School, Clearfield, Utah

Diverse Furnishings, Fixtures, and Finishes

Each and every action zone has incredibly distinctive spatial options and characteristics.  As this sort of, the inside structure aspects, which includes home furnishings, fixtures, devices, and finishes become exceedingly important.  For home furniture, this usually means possessing a variety of seating arrangements and kinds, including a variety of tender and really hard seating options as nicely as tables of varying sizes and heights.  Important fixtures and devices to consider include things like, most importantly, lighting, but also audio-visible tools and technological innovation-increased furnishings for displays and collaboration.  Last, but surely not the very least, finishes deliver a critical differentiator.  From acoustic solutions to ground and wall finishes, the appear, really feel, and general environment of a room is described by the finishes.  For this rationale, it is critically important that the finishes are intentionally chosen with the activity zones in mind.

In the picture below of Norma Rose Level Elementary, we see that the areas in front of the sink and within the studying studios have simply cleanable flooring that make this zone excellent for damp and messy jobs.

Norma Rose Level Elementary, Vancouver, BC

Seem Attenuation

1 spatial attribute that can make or break a Finding out Commons is the acoustic layout.  Because a Finding out Commons is an open, multi-zoned house, dampening the transmission of seem is significant.  And yet, we generally locate this to be just one of the most missed style factors.  During a the latest discovery take a look at, the significance of seem attenuation was reinforced over and over again. In advance of our arrival, college board leadership experienced toured an FI-developed college, Saint Francis of Assisi, and they were blown absent by how tranquil the understanding environments felt.  In regards to the finding out commons, they famous how quick it was to have a dialogue on one particular aspect of the commons at the similar time that a group of college students was functioning in a different part of the commons, even though concurrently an entire course experienced the garage door to a finding out studio open up and was going in and out of the place as they transitioned from activity to action.

All of the exercise within the commons was able to co-exist for the reason that the sounds from every exercise did not reverberate during the area the sound was attenuated by way of the style and design and content assortment for the ceilings, walls, and floors.  In distinction, when we toured the most recent college in their district, in all places we went there was a cacophony of noise–even the areas that had been built to be calming breakout spaces.  As a final result, lots of staff members users have been reticent to endorse open up commons places in potential colleges inside of the district.  However, considering the fact that the management group experienced expert what a nicely-intended commons can experience like, they became the most important advocates once more and once again countering any statements of how distracting open up commons locations are with how productive and useful they can be when audio is perfectly tackled in the style and design.

Chappaqua STEAM Commons, Chappaqua, NY

Entry to H2o and Storage

As observed before, for mastering that is very best achieved when college students get out of their chairs and have interaction in palms-on routines, we deliver Task Zones.  These are areas that have simply washer-friendly flooring, a sink, and storage. For before grades, the task zone may perhaps serve as a spot for wet and messy engage in. Whereas for more mature students, the same place can be made as a place for little projects or a small kitchen area, a universal function that builds community and belonging

In the image down below of Sinarmas World Academy, students are mastering Sumi-e, a variety of Chinese ink clean portray, in the Commons.

Sinarmas Entire world Academy, Tangerang, Indonesia


When a mastering commons is built with an emphasis on robust indoor-out of doors connections visible and permeable connections to adjacent areas diverse exercise zones different furnishings, fixtures, and finishes and superior sound attenuation, it the natural way turns into the flourishing coronary heart of the mastering community.  As the flourishing coronary heart, the studying commons turns into a spot that fosters a perception of appreciate, assist, and belonging, producing learners truly come to feel at simplicity and at residence in their university.  And, when pupils really feel liked, supported, and bundled, it is achievable to think about the cascading catalytic effects this can have on mastering, creativeness, mental health, social-psychological growth, and so much far more!  So…despite a rocky history, do not give up on the promise of vivid Discovering Commons. When you go into a college wherever they are well intended and teachers know how to use them, it is magical.