Designing a learning center…

Have you ever thought about how the way we design learning spaces help to influence our behavior in space? Space plays an important role in inviting, supporting or sometimes the complete opposite, without us always being aware this. How do you set up a really good learning center where space becomes an active partner?

We dig deep into some of the thoughts you can make and the methods you can use. The goal in any designproces for learning environments is to hit “the sweet spot”, where the environment engages, is enjoyable and provides meaningful activities from the user’s point of view – in other words, when the space helps to bring the many different users into flow.

The big Why

The first important step, is to focus on the mission: What do we want with our learning center at our parteicular school? What differences does it have to make? Which competencies and resources do we have and what synergies can be created? And not least, what are the needs from the different user groups?

Make prototypes together!

It is important to involve the central users from the beginning of the design process. Here you can gain perspectives on different needs and uncover blind spots where a particular learning center maybe could play an even stronger role. Work at several workshops where you work with at least at one workshop are creative and get your hands on – this is how the brain works the best. Then you have a good basis for creating a first draft of an interior design, which the users can then comment on again before the final decision making.
In the design fase itself, it is a good help to think in the following four F’s; Fællesskab (community), Funktioner (functions), Følelser (feelings) and Facilitering (facilitation).

F for ‘fællesskaber’ (communities): The role of the learning center at the school

The first perspective is about the physical location of the learning center. This is especially important is you are building a new school, or rebuilding one. If you already have a functioning learning center, where it is located, you can still benefit from doing some thinking about it. It is all about seeing the context and communities that the learning center enters at the school, and where different functions can fertilise each other. For example, could there be a close interaction with crafts and design with emphasis on digital workshops? Should the learning center be the heart of the school, where it also plays an important social role? Is the learning center even a physical independent place?

We see examples of everything from majer learning centers to learning centers integrated with other functions or distributed locally, where books and other teaching materials are distributed in the school’s areas without an independent physical place of the learning center’s many functions and offerings.

F for functions: What should one be able to do?

The next step is to uncover the learning center’s features. This include book collections, in-depht reading, class presentations, inspiring and interactive exhibitions, access to media and more. Here, too, think a lot in the saying: What should one be able to do here? Also think 5 years ahead and get new ideas.

At this point new zones begin to appear. Some may need smaller og larger independent spaces, while others work just fine in a more open space. Advantageously, some zones can be combined in multi-functional facilities. Also think about creating attractive features for all age groups, and not least the colleagues in the house, who are passing by.

When placing the functions, then think about “room in rooms”; places where you feel physically bounded, whether you are or not. It can be plant, space creating lighting, angle shelving and much more. Think of it as a varied learning landscape with noises in work methods and furniture. In this way, both high and low places are created, and open and more closed places.

In the recent years we see more and more new features becoming part of the learning centers around. Some even in the direction of real fablabs, inviting themselves to throw in experiments with robots, 3D prints and more. This is also where we begin to see “next practice experiments”, where school staff and students, with expert guidance, can try new learning forms with completely different types of devices, digital equipment and more.

F for feeling: Which feelings do we want to wake in the users?

The third perspective we look at, is how it should feel to step inside. How should it feel to stay there and work there? The goal is to create brain friendly environments where you feel welcome and where it is easy to get in flow and focus. Active zones of movement and collaboration must be well-proportioned to other zones that work as quite zones. That way, one function does not come at expense of other. Also work with the light so that there is a varied lux-landscape. Furthermore, opportunities to sit softly and comfortably are a must. Carpets in selected areas or changing floor coverings may also support zones. Not least, with natural materials and plants, we can contribute to a safe atmosphere, as we simply respond positively to the brain in terms of nature – even if it just is a photo.

In extension, if the environments have a story to tell, it supports the friendly environments. Children an adults should enter exciting universes, where some of the messages that a learning center has at heart, can turn into physical experiences. How can you feel the fairytale of immersing yourself in a special book? Here again it is important to remember the different user groups. So that both smaller and larger children can find inspiration, freedom and feel connected with the environment.

F for facilitating: What do we want to invite for?

The last perspective zooms right down to the artifice level like objects, embellishments and more. Here the important question is, what do we want to facilitate, inspire and nudge the users to do? Facilitating kan be as simple as good, clear signage. Also here, it is important that we give the opportunity to “personalise” the experience. For example with headphones, floor pillows you can lay in a good place, jumping letters at the entrance, secret hatches with today’s book, creative tasks just to put your hands in, etc.

One is tempted to add one last F-word; Fantasy. The stronger the physical narrative of your learning center stands, the stronger it works. That is, if it is a relevante story for your users. In addition, there must there be some fun ideas, crazy ideas and things that users have helped create for other. That way, you get something to come by and something to write home about!

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