Introduction to Learning Spaces

What is Learning Spaces? "Not just the places but also the ways in which we engage our students and others 
 in active learning"

What do we mean when we talk about learning spaces”? Definitions range from the literal and specific to vastly inclusive and even deconstructionist. However, in general, the agreed upon understanding of a “learning spaces” in the context of higher education institutions (and the one upon which the resources in this site are premised) is that, while the term specifically points towards the physical “area” in which teaching and learning occurs, it also includes other, less literal spaces, such as the digital and cognitive (Oblinger, 2006). Further, learning spaces are not just the places but also the ways in which we engage our students in active learning. It is increasingly vital that we move away from the traditional notion of “classrooms” and move into a greater understanding of “learning spaces” that encompasses not the dissemination of knowledge but the shared experience of learning.

In addition, learning spaces are found in a range of settings and accommodate a range of pedagogical approaches (Blackmore et al). Among these spaces are included libraries (Bridgland and Blanchard, 2001; Keating and Gabb, 2005, Lonsdale, 2003), laboratories, workplaces, green spaces (Massey, 2004), and a variety of other locations where both formal and informal learning occurs. “Social practices, formal instruction and informal social interactions, change the nature, use and experience of space. Learning spaces mediate the relationship and social practices of teaching and learning. . . ” (Oblinger, 2006, in Blackmore et al), it’s a paradigm shift from not just being a set of connected physical entity but part of the fabric that aims to guide learning actively.

This website looks to bring together resources, design principles, examples of best practice, case studies, and other materials useful to inform those interested in and involved with learning spaces. While the site is focused upon the Australasian region, and looks to address the concerns based therein, it draws upon the richness of example present globally.


Blackmore, J. et al. The connections between learning spaces and learning outcomes: people and learning places? Centre for Research in Educational Futures and Innovation.

Bridgland, A. & Blanchard, P. (2001). “Flexible delivery/flexible learning … does it make a difference?” Australian Academic & Research Libraries September: 177-191

JISC (2006). Designing Spaces for Effective Learning.

Keating, S. & Gabb, R. (2005). Putting learning into the learning commons: A literature review. Postcompulsory Education Centre, Victoria University.

Kolb, A. Y. and D. A. Kolb (2005). “Learning Styles and Learning Spaces: Enhancing Experiential Learning in Higher Education.” Academy of Management Learning & Education 4(2): 193-212

Lonsdale, M. (2003). Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement. A review of the research. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research

Massey, S. (2004). The benefits of a Forest School experience for children in their early years. Forest school in Worcestershirelea:10

Oblinger, D. (2006). Learning Spaces, Educause.

Definition of Active Learning

Active learning is an approach to education that involves and engages students in the teaching and learning exchange. As opposed to a transmission approach or banking model of education (Freire, 1970), which positions the instructor as the “keeper” of knowledge to “deposit” the learning in the receptacles that are the students’ brains, active learning recognises the role that students hold in their own education. Further, this pedagogical approach employs meaningful and intentional activities that not only provide greater agency to students but also require thought and reflection about the learning taking place (Horton andFreire, 1990).

Active learning can essentially be defined as “students doing things and thinking about what they are doing” (Bonwell and Eison, 1991).

Examples of active learning range from group work and mind mapping to project based and collaborative learning (Russell, J.D. et al, 1995). The aim is to create a learning relationship among the student, instructor, the material and the spaces, that requires engagement and reflection.


Bonwell, C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: George Washington University.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Horton, M. &Freire, P. (1990). We Make the Road by Walking. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Kelley, S.M., Shemberg, K.M., Cowell, B.S. & Zinnbaur, B.J. (1995). Coping with students resistence to critical thinking: What the psychotherapy literature can tell us. College Teaching, 43(4), 140-145.

Why Active Learning?

Active learning focuses on being student centered in its approach, it prioritises the construction and development of knowledge, rather than the transmission of information. With this in mind “spaces provide the capacity to extend and enhance pedagogical repertoires” (Blackmore, et al, 2010, p.48), and therefore enhance student engagement and performance – putting students at the center. Below are some examples and literature relating to active learning, strategies and learning spaces:


Blackmore, J., Bateman, D., Loughlin, J., O’Mara, J. & Aranda, G. (2010). The connection between learning spaces and student learning outcomes: a literature review. Melbourne: Department for Education and Early Childhood Development.

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