Much of the dialogue around open learning spaces seems to focus on student outcomes and whether or not the space is making a difference.
The literature review by Blackmore, Bateman, Loughlin and O’Mara (2011) goes a long way to gathering together relevant research in order to help answer just that question. Commissioned by Victoria, Australia’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, it acknowledges that despite all the recent state investment in building, there has been little international research connecting learning spaces and student outcomes. This, therefore, is an important document.
The question that the review asked was: “To what extent does the literature show connections between learning spaces and student learning outcomes in schools?” It presents information on theoretical and empirical connections made between the space and outcomes, identifies gaps in the research, as well as reporting emerging themes.
The report takes a broad view of learning outcomes to include social, affective, physical as well as cognitive changes in students. These include such elements as standardized test scores, learner engagement, quality of student and teacher interactions, evidence of increased interpersonal competencies, individuals’ perceptions of belonging and inclusion, and behavioural indicators such as retention and absenteeism.
The findings are very valuable as they not only pull together themes and findings from a wide range of literature but also because they reveal gaps that need to be filled:
“Much of the literature focuses on the quality of conditions, perceptions or tangibles rather than educational practices or intangibles in terms of how space is perceived, used, and with what effect. The research literature is concentrated in the design phase. While informed by both contemporary architectural and educational research as to what is best design and best practice, there is little empirical research that considers what happens once in the space” (p. v).
The emphasis therefore for future research needs to shift away from the design process and next to consider how teachers and learners operate in the space once it has been established. What are the key pedagogical changes needed to teach in the space and how are they different from teaching in a ‘single cell’ classroom? Importantly too to look at new possibilities; what teaching and learning opportunities are engendered by the provision of these new spaces?
Blackmore, J., Bateman, D., Loughlin, J., & O'Mara, J. (2011). Research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes: Literature review. Melbourne: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Retrieved from http://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/publ/research/publ/blackmore_learning_spaces.pdf