“We spend a lot of time trying to change people. The thing to do is to change the environment and people will change themselves (JISC 2006).”
When I first stepped into the CEF’s lobby, I was truly surprised by the physical setting, as I walked in with traditional expectations. The ambience was welcoming, filled with humor and the right dose of sarcasm, making the world of public finances, tax administration and central banking inviting and fun.
The lobby was arranged with coffee tables and armchairs and other different design elements for sitting, standing and networking. There were a lot of surprising elements – winning podium, office traffic signs and a black pillar as a central information sharing point – which stimulated my mind and senses and tackled my creativity with an invisible hand.
It was amazing how this space motivated me to learn and stimulated me to think out of the box. The effort to build a collaborative learning and social space was notable. It was obvious that the lobby was designed to make the environment support the transformation of learning and, most importantly, create a positive experience.
In the past and also nowadays the majority of learning spaces have been designed around lecturing and the lecturer. Thus, when most of us think of a learning space (and I was not an exception) we think of a classroom with a lecturer standing in the front.
But what if the perspective is changed and we think of the learner rather than the lecturer? What if we focus on vivid and lively conversations rather than silence, and action rather than passive perceiving of information? What else will have to change? The learning process itself, the learning space and our expectations.
Even though different instructions require different approaches to the subject, we at the CEF try to embrace a few general guidelines, which has helped us achieve the desired learning outcomes:
- We move the focus from the lecturer by creating multiple focal points in classrooms.
- Instead of arranging learners to sit in rows we group them in different ways and ensure eye contact.
- We push the boundaries of our classrooms by establishing informal group work spaces (for instance the renovation of our terrace has proved to be a great arrangement, serving now as a stimulating learning and social place).
- Learning happens everywhere, so we are always on the search for new learning spaces – we take our classes to the park, cafés and galleries.
- When designing the learning events, we always try to make the classroom user-friendly and maximize user involvement by developing a sense of belonging, control and comfort for the learners (appreciation wall, available wi-fi connection and laptops, refreshments, air conditioning).
We perceive the physical space as a catalyzing agent that provides a way for achieving predetermined objectives, which are problem-based and require collaborative search for solutions.
When we design new learning initiatives and create the physical setting, we derive from the dialogical nature of learning and take into consideration the student-content relationship, the teacher-student relationship and the importance of peer-to-peer learning.
Being well aware of the importance of the learning space has taken us to the point where we do not try to change people. Instead, we create a flexible environment that helps open a big door for the change to enter.
JISC (2006), Designing Spaces for Effective Learning: A guide to 21st century learning space design, JISC Development Group, Bristol. Available at: https://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20140616001949/http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/publications/learningspaces.pdf