How to Design a Learning Commons

By: Randy Fielding, Cierra Mantz, Nathan Strenge

Dilemma: Most prevalent spots are created as secondary spaces, a area for breaking out from the classroom. But as schools remodel from a regular, classroom-primarily based technique to a learner-centered strategy, common regions grow to be important hubs of mastering and as this sort of, need thoroughly orchestrated structure.

In current several years, a learner-centered product of education and learning has turn into more and more well-liked.  As a result, we at Fielding Worldwide see an rising pattern in the vision statements of a lot of schools: there is an emphasis on a number of pathways towards excellence and accomplishment for all learners. These statements typically go on to contact out particular university student properties and capabilities these kinds of as holistic perfectly-becoming, crucial imagining, inventive trouble solving, technological and media literacy, communication, and collaboration. At the similar time, most educators have begun to acknowledge that the bodily discovering atmosphere is a critical factor in supporting their academic eyesight – the setting can catalyze, or hinder, sought after competencies.

A person kind of place that will come up yet again and once more as acquiring the possible to disrupt the isolated character of the classroom design and align with the goals faculties have these days is the Learning Commons.  A well-intended Learning Commons supports every single of the competencies faculties are making an attempt to foster in their learners hence, it is an vital source for any faculty searching for to accomplish learner-centered visions.  Despite men and women seeking accessibility to Commons, they are typically poorly made and underutilized. So why do men and women want them in the to start with location?

A perfectly-built Mastering Commons is foundational for producing fluidly linked areas that foster collaborative, interdisciplinary, and self-directed finding out. A very well-developed Commons options spatial range which helps make it attainable to at the same time aid finding out ordeals that integrate a selection of discovering modalities.  Spatial fluidity as well as spatial variety equals a form of spatial agility that responds to the real-time desires of youngsters and grownups alike, making them excellent places to cultivate dynamic communities crafted on associations, belonging, and company. So, if Understanding Commons are so valuable, and folks actively want them, what can history notify us about why they are routinely ineffective?

As early as the open up classroom moment of the 1970s and later on in the middle faculty pod motion of the 1980s, the strategy of communal studying spots was explored. In the end, these explorations failed for several causes, several of which were being spatial, including a absence of spatial variety and limited connections to the outdoor (just to name a pair) but some of the explanations can also be attributed to a absence of experienced assets and academic programming in aid of the model.

In the many years due to the fact architects and educators initial attempted to disrupt the idea that the classroom ought to be the major place for mastering, we’ve designed considerable progress pertaining to how we can design and style the actual physical natural environment to be an educational asset in the learning system.  This post will target on the spatial design and style components required for a nicely-created Learning Commons.  Specifically, we’ll examine 6 important factors for flourishing Discovering Commons:

  1. Powerful indoor-outdoor connections
  2. Visual and permeable connections to adjacent spaces
  3. Numerous exercise zones
  4. Varied furnishings, fixtures, and finishes
  5. Seem attenuation
  6. Obtain to water and storage

Powerful Indoor-Outdoor Connections

We can see many factors that help flourishing in the Design and style Pattern sketch earlier mentioned. Foremost, a connection to the outside that offers all-natural light-weight and views is critical for nurturing a perception of wellness. In The Prolonged Mind, Annie Murphy Paul cites investigation that suggests students’ ability to glance outside the house increases tutorial outcomes. Irrespective of the consciousness of humans’ innate drive to be linked with nature, and investigate displaying its multilayered advantages, we see numerous flawed frequent parts which are surrounded by classrooms–essentially, widened corridors–without a connection to the outside. If the encompassing classrooms have pure mild and the Learning Commons does not, exactly where will learners want to be?

An indoor-outdoor link can also be reinforced via the use of natural constructing supplies and finishes. In the photograph of Schiffer Collaborative Faculty underneath, we can see how the use of regional stone, wood, and organic gentle contributes to an ambiance of magnificence and relaxed, mirroring the nearby landscape.

John Schiffer Collaborative School, Sheridan, Wyoming

Visible & Permeable Connections to Adjacent Areas

Powerful visual connections and permeable boundaries involving areas invite learners to walk, observe and engage with their peers and their environments inside and out. Inside windows, glass doorways, and movable partitions present learners the possibility to shift outside the house their classrooms into adjacent project labs, finding out studios, outdoor lecture rooms, and cave spaces exactly where they can perform individually and/or in groups though however acquiring the profit of visual supervision by teachers–an essential aspect of basic safety.  In addition to visually linked protection, college students have the chance to join with four to six instructors and close to 100-120 learners, vs . one instructor and 20-30 students in a common classroom. As these, properly-built Mastering Commons increases the odds that a learner will create a shut relationship with an adult and peers, maximizing their perception of belonging.

In the image underneath, from Saint Francis of Assisi Elementary, we can see how permeable boundaries and visible connections facilitate student autonomy and collaboration among students and between college students and lecturers.

Saint Francis of Assisi Elementary, Kingston, Ontario

Numerous Activity Zones

Finding out is a complicated approach that happens in numerous strategies as a result, it is significant that the varieties of available areas are intended to guidance multiple finding out modalities as perfectly as all aspects of the understanding course of action. In purchase to structure for this, spatial diversity is vital.  In the Layout Sample sketch at the starting of the short article, we see a few exercise zones: modest team and person, job zone, and presentation.  While these a few zones are not exhaustive of the kinds of zones a Finding out Commons may possibly have, they present a framework for knowledge how numerous zones can be created in a one open up place.  In addition to a lot more broadly described exercise zones, for instances in which a learner demands a quieter, customized place, we deliver cave areas, calming retreats, and more compact tables or booths for unbiased operate and reflection. These spots enable pupils to have individual area although still staying visually related to others.

In the graphic beneath, from South Clearfield Elementary, we can see how cave spaces supply a feeling of partial enclosure–a space to experience secure, read quietly, and search out with curiosity and surprise.

South Clearfield Elementary College, Clearfield, Utah

Diversified Furnishings, Fixtures, and Finishes

Each individual exercise zone has quite unique spatial characteristics and features.  As this sort of, the inside design and style features, together with home furniture, fixtures, gear, and finishes come to be exceedingly vital.  For furnishings, this implies acquiring a variety of seating arrangements and sorts, such as a selection of soft and hard seating options as properly as tables of various sizes and heights.  Important fixtures and machines to consider consist of, most importantly, lighting, but also audio-visible equipment and technological know-how-improved furnishings for displays and collaboration.  Last, but absolutely not the very least, finishes give a essential differentiator.  From acoustic treatment plans to flooring and wall finishes, the glimpse, sense, and in general atmosphere of a room is outlined by the finishes.  For this purpose, it is critically vital that the finishes are deliberately selected with the activity zones in mind.

In the picture under of Norma Rose Point Elementary, we see that the places in front of the sink and inside of the discovering studios have quickly washable flooring that make this zone excellent for moist and messy tasks.

Norma Rose Level Elementary, Vancouver, BC

Seem Attenuation

A single spatial attribute that can make or crack a Discovering Commons is the acoustic style and design.  Because a Understanding Commons is an open up, multi-zoned house, dampening the transmission of seem is significant.  And yet, we frequently uncover this to be just one of the most missed design and style features.  During a modern discovery check out, the worth of audio attenuation was reinforced about and in excess of all over again. In advance of our arrival, school board management had toured an FI-created college, Saint Francis of Assisi, and they were blown away by how tranquil the mastering environments felt.  In regards to the finding out commons, they mentioned how easy it was to have a dialogue on one particular aspect of the commons at the exact time that a team of college students was functioning in a further part of the commons, though at the same time an total course experienced the garage door to a finding out studio open and was shifting in and out of the house as they transitioned from exercise to activity.

All of the action in the commons was in a position to co-exist simply because the sounds from each individual activity did not reverberate throughout the space the sound was attenuated by the style and design and product variety for the ceilings, partitions, and flooring.  In contrast, when we toured the most recent university in their district, almost everywhere we went there was a cacophony of noise–even the spaces that ended up intended to be calming breakout spaces.  As a outcome, several employees users were reticent to suggest open commons parts in upcoming faculties in just the district.  However, since the leadership group had experienced what a well-intended commons can experience like, they turned the greatest advocates once more and all over again countering any claims of how distracting open up commons parts are with how powerful and useful they can be when seem is well tackled in the design and style.

Chappaqua STEAM Commons, Chappaqua, NY

Accessibility to Water and Storage

As noted before, for discovering that is greatest obtained when learners get out of their chairs and have interaction in palms-on routines, we deliver Undertaking Zones.  These are spots that have quickly washer-friendly flooring, a sink, and storage. For earlier grades, the challenge zone may serve as a put for soaked and messy perform. Whilst for older college students, the same spot can be intended as a put for tiny jobs or a compact kitchen area, a common aspect that builds neighborhood and belonging

In the impression underneath of Sinarmas World Academy, pupils are mastering Sumi-e, a kind of Chinese ink clean portray, in the Commons.

Sinarmas Globe Academy, Tangerang, Indonesia


When a studying commons is built with an emphasis on sturdy indoor-outdoor connections visual and permeable connections to adjacent spaces varied exercise zones varied furnishings, fixtures, and finishes and superior sound attenuation, it naturally becomes the flourishing coronary heart of the learning group.  As the flourishing heart, the understanding commons results in being a place that fosters a perception of adore, help, and belonging, producing learners definitely experience at relieve and at household in their school.  And, when pupils sense beloved, supported, and included, it’s feasible to imagine the cascading catalytic outcomes this can have on understanding, creative imagination, psychological wellness, social-psychological progress, and so substantially much more!  So…despite a rocky history, don’t give up on the promise of vibrant Mastering Commons. When you go into a university the place they are very well created and academics know how to use them, it is magical.