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Learning Spaces

Creativity, teamwork, self-management and social competence are 21st century learner capabilities outlined in the Australian Curriculum (2010: 20 -21) and well-designed learning spaces can support students to learn these skills.

Jill Willis B.A.,M.Ed. – Lecturer and Researcher Faculty of Education

Queensland University of Technology


Principles for designing effective learning spaces

Peer collaboration, and feedback are pedagogical strategies with the greatest impact on improving learner outcomes (Hattie 2009). Flexible table groupings lead to more discussion, active student learning and frequent informal teacher help, with students in these environments outperforming those who were taught the same course in a traditional classroom (Whiteside, Brooks and Walker 2010).

Learning is enhanced in stimulating spaces. Visual and kinesthetic experiences motivate and engage students and teachers, aiding memory as “humans associate what they learn with where they learned it” (Gee 2006). Engagement is a mixture of deep understanding, active participation, and feeling valued (Munns and Woodward 2006).

Stimulating learning spaces can be designed to provide for active group learning, as well as teacher directed, individual learning, allowing responsive flexibility to suit daily learning needs. According to Gee (2006) learning spaces need to:

  •     Be welcoming and Familiar
  •     Be flexible
  •     Allow adequate space for movement
  •     Allow user ownership that enables people to change them easily
  •     Enable changeable focus points
  •     Have mobile displays that support collaboration and teaching with digital media
  •     Anticipate future needs

Well-designed, stimulating learning environments are an investment in effective learning, creating and supporting the development of a learning community.


Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2010). The shape of the Australian Curriculum. Source:

Gee, L. (2006). Chapter 10. Human-centered design guidelines. In D. Oblinger & J. Oblinger (Eds.) Available from

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Oxon: Routledge.

Munns, G., & Woodward, H. (2006). Student engagement and student self-assessment: the REAL framework. Assessment in Education, 13(2), 193 – 213.

Jill Willis Background

Jill Willis is a lecturer in Education supporting undergraduate and postgraduate pre-service teachers in developing skills in pedagogy, assessment and curriculum planning.

Her research interests include:

  •     classroom assessment practices, in particular Assessment for Learning
  •     learner identity
  •     autonomy
  •     collaborative learning pedagogies
  •     learner engagement

Jill has twenty years of teaching experience in Queensland state and independent schools as a teacher, Head of Department and Director of Studies. Jill contributes to professional learning communities and partnerships and is engaged in research projects investigating the impact of learning environments on learner engagement in two projects in a primary school and online learning environments. She is also engaged in research work with schools in how the Australian Curriculum assessment standards can be used to enhance learning in schools.

Learning Spaces & Learning Outcomes: Connecting the Dots

Deb Cox, B.A., Dip. Ed. Principal, Nundah State School

If you ask any teacher if they want their students to be able to make effective decisions, reflect, communicate, self-manage, inquire, evaluate, and create etc, the answer is inevitably…. “of course”. Yet so often our classrooms are not set up to for this.

Our school was selected as a Trial School for the State Schools of Tomorrow project in 2008, and as our Year 7 students who graduate today, it seems appropriate to reflect on what we adults and students have learnt.

While we have had research for a while now around the needs of 21st C Learners, the quantifiable data confirming that Flexible, Creative, Stimulating and Comfortable Learning Spaces improve both Intellectual and Social-Emotional Learning Outcomes is just beginning to emerge (see “Making the Case for Space: Three Years of Empirical Research on Learning Environments”, by Whiteside, Brooks and Walker). Until now we have been working on anecdotal evidence and our intuition, believing that, of course, it will make a difference.

My beliefs have been confirmed as I reflect on the significant learning gains made by these students in the past 18 months. We have measured these gains using a variety of formal and informal measures, including National Testing. Our research and the evidence of student improvement (and pictures) is all available on our school website:

The most obvious, but still most significant learning is that Teacher’s Pedagogy provides the strongest link between Learning Spaces, and the resultant improvement in Learning Outcomes.


You can connect the dots….you can create sensational learning spaces and have resultant improved learning outcomes if as teachers and leaders we understand what the dots are:

Knowing the Learner

  • Knowing their learning styles, intelligences, and data;

Effective Design

  •  Effective design of both Curriculum, Pedagogy and the Learning Environments;

Explicit Teaching of concepts, skills and processes

  •  By the teacher, but also by other students. We use a pedagogical “Threads” model of TO, WITH, BY, FOR ie Modelling, Guided Practice, Independent Practice, and Reflection-Feedback.

Choices in Learning

  •     Student voice, control and self-management of their learning is an important factor in success.

Assess and Redesign

  •  Be prepared to measure the learning, and then redesign both the curriculum and the learning space to suit the changing needs of the learners.

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