How to effectively invest in your learning spaces

Systematic investment in new learning environments is a matter of policy in many countries. In Australia alone, more than $16 billion funded the Rudd government’s Building the Education Revolution program. Current state government initiatives will soon increase this public investment (Building Future Schools Fund).

The need for innovative classroom spaces stems from questions on the efficiency of existing classrooms. Analysis by the Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change (ILETC) project highlights that conventional or traditional classrooms account for about 75% of all spaces in Australian and New Zealand schools (ILECT Project). The research found that most of the current classrooms are unfit for today’s learners.

A review of the ILECT project identified empirical studies that evaluated the correlation between educational spaces and academic achievement. Of the 5,521 articles retrieved (since 1960), only 21 studies evaluated impacts of the physical environment of primary and secondary schools on measures of student learning outcomes. In particular, the review highlighted how little is understood about the long-term impact of different learning spaces. It also identified that the large and interconnected spaces of the open-plan movement from the 1960s to 1970s had questionable effects on academic outcomes.

Key studies that were conducted on the subject often focused more on the design and physical functions of the building rather than their use in teacher practice and student learning outcomes.

We asked Kristan Height, Head of Science at Whitefriars College, on how Whitefriars has integrated architects and best revamped their learning spaces to suit their students and teacher needs. Here is what she had to say:

  1. On collaborating with architects, the best advice is to always make yourself available. The more input you have allows you more opportunity to present your ideas and formulate learning areas to best suit your student needs.
  2. Prior to any facility upgrade it is essential that the school visit other schools that have adopted similar projects. This allows the school to observe, discuss and determine the strengths and weaknesses of any upgrade, ensuring only effective learning spaces are built and that simple and costly mistakes are not made.
  3. The newly built Science and Technologies centre at Whitefriars ensures that there are opportunities for students to develop their talents to achieve personal excellence through collaborative activities that foster positive relationships. The facility allows for creativity and originality when completing problem-based learning activities that require students to question, inquire, imagine and reflect critically. Learning at Whitefriars is now stimulating, engaging and meaningful to boys due to our modernistic and innovative learning spaces.