This learning space looks familiar!

Naming and reimaging learning spaces is nothing new but it is important to note that they each share a flaw in their design. Here is just a selection of popular design models…

The 7 Learning Spaces design model created by Ewan McIntosh (2010) and developed from Matt Locke’s (2007) 6 Spaces of Social Media model

Educational consultants and architects, Nair, Fielding and Lackney, offer 18 Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools.

David Thornburg (2014) offers just 4 Learning Spaces in his model but they have been popularised in many schools and professional institutions.

It is with Thornburg’s model that I wish to highlight this common flaw and point to the effectiveness of the Shapes of Learning.

Thornburg created four titles given to four different spaces of learning. These are Campfire, where students gather to hear the wisdom of an expert or teacher; Watering Holes, where students engage in social learning, such as discussions; Caves, where students reflect and make meaning of their learning, sometimes with external support such as textbooks; and Life, where student engage in hands on, practical applications of what they have learnt.

Whilst these four different areas bare similarities to the six Shapes of Learning, it is in their conceptualisation that the underlying flaw is made apparent. For a young child to understand, for example, the Cave Learning space, they would first need to have a clear, positive mental image of what a cave is, devoid of fearful or negative impressions. Furthermore, they would need to attach that abstract idea to the learning environment it is depicting in order for it to be effectively used. This requires a great deal of metacognitive training and preliminary teaching, particularly with younger pupils, and results in attention being drawn from effective learning to promoting an educational model. The desire to share language, develop meaning, and quickly visualise is hindered and the goal of learning takes a backseat.

In contrast, the Shapes of Learning offers exactly that – a shape which young and old can attribute meaning. The beauty in its simplicity is that the depth of language, meaning, and desired learning environment can be increased in complexity according to the appropriate age of its users.

The shape may be familiar but its use is firmly in the hands of its users for the purpose of their learning.