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How to Design a Learning Commons

How to Design a Learning Commons

By: Randy Fielding, Cierra Mantz, Nathan Strenge

Challenge: Most common areas are designed as secondary areas, a area for breaking out from the classroom. But as colleges rework from a traditional, classroom-based mostly method to a learner-centered tactic, popular locations become crucial hubs of mastering and as these kinds of, have to have cautiously orchestrated design and style.

In recent yrs, a learner-centered product of schooling has turn into ever more well-liked.  As a outcome, we at Fielding International see an rising pattern in the eyesight statements of several educational facilities: there is an emphasis on a number of pathways toward excellence and accomplishment for all pupils. These statements normally go on to phone out precise university student properties and skills these types of as holistic properly-becoming, significant pondering, innovative dilemma resolving, technological and media literacy, conversation, and collaboration. At the similar time, most educators have started to admit that the actual physical mastering setting is a essential issue in supporting their educational eyesight – the surroundings can catalyze, or hinder, sought after competencies.

Just one type of place that arrives up again and once again as getting the probable to disrupt the isolated mother nature of the classroom model and align with the ambitions faculties have right now is the Discovering Commons.  A well-intended Mastering Commons supports each individual of the competencies colleges are hoping to foster in their students as a result, it is an critical useful resource for any school trying to find to achieve learner-centered visions.  Despite persons seeking accessibility to Commons, they are generally improperly designed and underutilized. So why do folks want them in the 1st position?

A nicely-intended Discovering Commons is foundational for producing fluidly connected areas that foster collaborative, interdisciplinary, and self-directed understanding. A perfectly-designed Commons options spatial variety which will make it doable to concurrently aid discovering ordeals that incorporate a range of finding out modalities.  Spatial fluidity moreover spatial range equals a variety of spatial agility that responds to the true-time requirements of young children and older people alike, making them great destinations to cultivate dynamic communities built on associations, belonging, and company. So, if Learning Commons are so useful, and people actively want them, what can historical past notify us about why they are regularly ineffective?

As early as the open up classroom second of the 1970s and later in the middle college pod motion of the 1980s, the thought of communal understanding spots was explored. Finally, these explorations failed for quite a few explanations, a lot of of which were being spatial, like a deficiency of spatial variety and confined connections to the outside (just to name a pair) but some of the reasons can also be attributed to a deficiency of expert means and instructional programming in assistance of the model.

In the many years because architects and educators initially attempted to disrupt the notion that the classroom should really be the main area for understanding, we have designed important development relating to how we can design and style the physical surroundings to be an educational asset in the learning system.  This article will target on the spatial layout elements needed for a effectively-designed Learning Commons.  Specifically, we’ll explore six vital things for thriving Discovering Commons:

  1. Sturdy indoor-outside connections
  2. Visual and permeable connections to adjacent spaces
  3. Assorted action zones
  4. Various furnishings, fixtures, and finishes
  5. Sound attenuation
  6. Accessibility to water and storage

Robust Indoor-Out of doors Connections

We can see many features that guidance flourishing in the Design and style Pattern sketch over. Foremost, a relationship to the outdoors that presents pure mild and sights is essential for nurturing a sense of wellness. In The Extended Thoughts, Annie Murphy Paul cites analysis that indicates students’ means to glance outdoors improves tutorial results. Inspite of the awareness of humans’ innate drive to be related with mother nature, and research displaying its multilayered added benefits, we see a lot of flawed widespread areas which are surrounded by classrooms–essentially, widened corridors–without a link to the exterior. If the surrounding classrooms have all-natural light-weight and the Discovering Commons does not, wherever will learners want to be?

An indoor-out of doors relationship can also be reinforced by means of the use of all-natural constructing supplies and finishes. In the picture of Schiffer Collaborative College down below, we can see how the use of regional stone, wood, and all-natural light-weight contributes to an environment of natural beauty and quiet, mirroring the community landscape.

How to Design a Learning Commons
John Schiffer Collaborative University, Sheridan, Wyoming

Visual & Permeable Connections to Adjacent Spaces

Potent visual connections and permeable boundaries involving areas invite students to stroll, notice and have interaction with their peers and their environments inside and out. Interior windows, glass doors, and movable walls give learners the possibility to move exterior their classrooms into adjacent project labs, understanding studios, outside lecture rooms, and cave spaces the place they can function individually and/or in groups though continue to receiving the reward of visual supervision by teachers–an important ingredient of protection.  In addition to visually related security, college students have the chance to connect with 4 to 6 academics and all-around 100-120 students, compared to just one trainer and 20-30 college students in a regular classroom. As these, well-designed Finding out Commons boosts the odds that a learner will create a shut relationship with an adult and friends, maximizing their sense of belonging.

In the picture beneath, from Saint Francis of Assisi Elementary, we can see how permeable boundaries and visual connections facilitate pupil autonomy and collaboration among pupils and concerning students and teachers.

Saint Francis of Assisi Elementary, Kingston, Ontario

Numerous Exercise Zones

Finding out is a intricate method that happens in many means therefore, it is vital that the types of offered areas are developed to assist multiple discovering modalities as well as all factors of the mastering method. In purchase to design and style for this, spatial variety is essential.  In the Style Sample sketch at the starting of the article, we see 3 action zones: tiny group and personal, challenge zone, and presentation.  While these three zones are not exhaustive of the sorts of zones a Finding out Commons could have, they deliver a framework for comprehension how a number of zones can be developed in a one open room.  In addition to much more broadly defined activity zones, for times in which a learner requirements a quieter, individualized room, we supply cave spaces, calming retreats, and smaller sized tables or booths for independent operate and reflection. These regions let college students to have particular place when however staying visually connected to some others.

In the graphic below, from South Clearfield Elementary, we can see how cave spaces deliver a feeling of partial enclosure–a area to truly feel secure, browse quietly, and glance out with curiosity and marvel.

South Clearfield Elementary School, Clearfield, Utah

Different Furnishings, Fixtures, and Finishes

Every single activity zone has quite unique spatial options and traits.  As these, the inside structure things, such as home furniture, fixtures, machines, and finishes come to be exceedingly crucial.  For home furnishings, this signifies getting a wide variety of seating preparations and kinds, which include a assortment of gentle and difficult seating solutions as perfectly as tables of varying sizes and heights.  Important fixtures and machines to look at incorporate, most importantly, lights, but also audio-visual machines and technology-improved furnishings for presentations and collaboration.  Last, but surely not least, finishes deliver a important differentiator.  From acoustic treatments to flooring and wall finishes, the search, really feel, and over-all atmosphere of a place is defined by the finishes.  For this purpose, it is critically important that the finishes are intentionally chosen with the exercise zones in intellect.

In the impression down below of Norma Rose Level Elementary, we see that the regions in front of the sink and in the understanding studios have very easily washable flooring that make this zone best for moist and messy assignments.

Norma Rose Level Elementary, Vancouver, BC

Sound Attenuation

One spatial attribute that can make or split a Discovering Commons is the acoustic style and design.  Because a Learning Commons is an open, multi-zoned place, dampening the transmission of audio is critical.  And however, we normally find this to be a person of the most ignored layout aspects.  During a new discovery pay a visit to, the worth of sound attenuation was strengthened around and more than once again. In advance of our arrival, college board management experienced toured an FI-built university, Saint Francis of Assisi, and they ended up blown away by how tranquil the understanding environments felt.  In regards to the finding out commons, they famous how uncomplicated it was to have a dialogue on 1 facet of the commons at the very same time that a team of students was operating in another component of the commons, although at the same time an whole class experienced the garage doorway to a finding out studio open up and was transferring in and out of the area as they transitioned from exercise to exercise.

All of the exercise in just the commons was capable to co-exist simply because the sounds from each individual exercise did not reverberate throughout the place the seem was attenuated by means of the layout and product choice for the ceilings, walls, and flooring.  In contrast, when we toured the newest university in their district, in all places we went there was a cacophony of noise–even the spaces that had been built to be calming breakout areas.  As a end result, quite a few staff members associates had been reticent to suggest open up commons regions in long run universities inside the district.  However, because the management team experienced experienced what a properly-intended commons can come to feel like, they turned the most significant advocates again and all over again countering any promises of how distracting open up commons regions are with how effective and useful they can be when sound is very well dealt with in the design and style.

Chappaqua STEAM Commons, Chappaqua, NY

Obtain to Water and Storage

As famous before, for finding out that is ideal realized when learners get out of their chairs and interact in palms-on routines, we offer Job Zones.  These are locations that have easily washer-friendly flooring, a sink, and storage. For earlier grades, the venture zone may possibly serve as a place for wet and messy play. While for more mature learners, the exact area can be intended as a area for tiny assignments or a little kitchen, a universal feature that builds community and belonging

In the image beneath of Sinarmas Environment Academy, learners are mastering Sumi-e, a variety of Chinese ink clean portray, in the Commons.

Sinarmas World Academy, Tangerang, Indonesia


When a discovering commons is designed with an emphasis on powerful indoor-out of doors connections visual and permeable connections to adjacent spaces various exercise zones different furnishings, fixtures, and finishes and very good sound attenuation, it in a natural way results in being the flourishing coronary heart of the discovering community.  As the thriving coronary heart, the finding out commons becomes a put that fosters a perception of like, help, and belonging, building learners genuinely truly feel at simplicity and at property in their college.  And, when learners sense loved, supported, and involved, it’s achievable to consider the cascading catalytic outcomes this can have on discovering, creative imagination, psychological well being, social-emotional growth, and so substantially more!  So…despite a rocky historical past, really don’t give up on the promise of lively Studying Commons. When you go into a faculty exactly where they are properly made and teachers know how to use them, it is magical.