First of all, design the learning process

Guest Post by Marcin Polak,

All ideas for the organisation of the educational spaces described in this blog and our series of Eduspaces21 publications can contribute to building a better learning environment for the students that attend it. To ensure that the changes in the school are not only changes of aesthetics all actions must take into account the primary objective: the didactics.

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We can change schools in a thousand ways, but changes that support better, more effective and enjoyable learning are those that are most justified. Not teaching, but learning – both among pupils and teachers (because the latter also need to constantly learn in a modern school and cannot stop the development of their skills). A school design project begins with the design of the learning process and not the design of the physical space in which this process occurs. Education first, followed by small and big architecture.


As we often mention this during Eduspaces21 project, there is a very probable risk that the proposed solutions, beyond the visual ones, will not have much in common with a modern and multi-functional educational space. This was confirmed by the British experience during the implementation of the government’s program Building Schools for the Future (2006-2010) when it turned out that there simply are no designers who have a sufficient knowledge on education as to execute such an ambitious plan and the participation of staff and pupils in the design process was too limited. Therefore, the first phase of the works is very important – the conceptual phase, which should be started with a discussion (even in a small group) about the place of the school in the community in the perspective of several decades, raise some key questions and seek answers.

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Instead of starting by designing a physical space, try to determine which educational program you want this school to pursue and whether the existing structures help or hinder you in its realization – dr Betty Despenza-Green[1]

When thinking about the changes – especially in architecture, which are usually the biggest – it is good to start by asking a series of questions and try to answer them[2]. These questions should be addressed in a team consisting of all persons concerned: representatives of the school community (school management, teachers, parents, pupils), the investor, the architects and designers.

Here is the first group of questions: What kind of education do we expect in the future? (instead of: what school buildings do we need?). What kind of learning processes and what relationships do we want to support? (instead of: how many classrooms do we need?). What competencies do we want to develop? What tools and resources are available to support learning?

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The second group of questions must concern the place of the school in the community. So these are questions about the relationship with the community (formal and informal), the cultural context (the school as a cultural community), and working with individuals and institutions in the local community.

If the pupil is to be the nucleus of learning, we cannot ignore the personalisation of teaching. We are designing a school of the future for the students of the future, so let’s try to answer the following questions: When do pupils study? Where do they study? What do they learn? With whom do they study? How do they study? What tools do they use? Let’s try to find the answer to question with the following model: To what extent is the newly designed learning space going to allow, encourage and facilitate a more personalised learning?

Next: to what extent will the newly designed learning space provide flexibility in the implementation of the program and conducting experiments? How will the new spaces enable us to easily use a different set of resources, expertise and knowledge, in response to the changing 21 century learning objectives? We should bear in mind that when thinking of the learning space, we do not only mean the assimilation of information and processing it into knowledge, but we also need to think about designing a space to develop skills and shaping attitudes of: collaboration (working together), innovation, sense of initiative, and creating knowledge together. In a way, this new educational space should also stimulate the transformation and development of a new pedagogy for the twenty-first century.

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Finally, at the end, ask questions about the flexibility of the educational space: Does it allow the learning process to occur in many places in the school and in different configurations of participants and resources? Does it allow using different approaches to learning? Does it allow a free use of modern digital educational technology in the learning process? Does it create conditions for freedom of creating and using online social networks for students?

The beginning of a successful educational space design – no matter how wide the scope – should be a school debate that would deal with a vision of the transformed place in the context of the whole educational activity of the educational institution. This conversation should not be omitted neither when building nor refurbishing existing buildings or their parts. Visions developed in a wider circle make the realisation of the goals easier and allow to embed changes in pedagogy, as well as to understand better the challenges that young people attending the school will face in the future.

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[1] Statement quoted in the book: 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn, James A. Bellanca, Solution Tree Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-935249-90-0.
[2] The list of question has been created on the basis of: What if… Re-imagining learning spaces, Tim Rudd, Carolyn Gifford, Jo Morrison, Keri Facer, Futurelab, 2006.
Marcin Polak is Chairman of the Council in the Think! Foundation for Knowledge Society, Warsaw, Poland and education expert majoring in modern education didactic approaches and learning environments. He is one of leaders of the Eduspaces21 project.