Travelling Through Spaces of Learning


A Critical Reflection:

Without constraints design cannot happen (Kuratko, Goldsworthy & Hornsby, 2012).  It’s just as well we have design thinking on our side because in the realm of designing spaces for learning that leverage good pedagogy there are many constraints that will pummel the process. Design thinking (Razzouk  & Shute, 2012) promises to be able to generate innovation and creativity to overcome constraint and in turn generate novel solutions to wicked problems. And thus I began a journey through this subject “Designing Spaces for Learning” under the expert guidance of Ewan McIntosh.

What have I learnt … much! This is a subject of learning that every educator should take as we have probed pedagogy and learning spaces from many different angles.

I was intrigued by the work of Hatchuel & Weil (2003) who provided a mode of reasoning (Design Theory) that encourages ‘design thinkers’ to act in very creative ways. ..unlocking those design solutions that seem elusive and unknown. The idea is to explore ‘concepts’ and using divergent thinking to create new ‘knowledge’ that can be applied to problems such as the design of learning spaces.  As a teacher I wonder at students being taught these skills to survive in a world saturated in knowledge.

A key point of learning in this subject is that we are all designers. Other key issues we have discussed range from space as a change agent, creative cultures, learning centred environments and beyond. It has been an extremely rich and academically rigorous journey.  Another key theme has been good pedagogy and students at the centre of their learning.  Design Theory is even finding it’s way in to school curriculum as a way of providing students with those ever important 21st century learning skills.

The big question to ponder is whether re-imagined learning spaces improve student outcomes.  These spaces undoubtedly leverage good pedagogies and research is beginning to show that some reforms are improving student learning (Barrett, Zhang,  Moffat & Kobbacy, 2013).  The loud message for me is that new pedagogies do require new learning spaces and much teaching is being hindered by old built pedagogies. The other loud message is that architects and designers are working on designing new spaces for learning (Dovey & Fisher, 2014).  Leonard (2007) calls for architects to embrace  new education pedagogies and to use the physical environment as a major reform element. These professionals are grappling with designing these spaces which powerful opportunities for professional educators to join the quest. We are the masters in education and should be having an input into how these spaces function. We need to become design thinkers. No doubt many of us teach in spaces of learning that even though they are architect designed do not quite hit the mark.

The other powerful learning experience for me was to organise a creative coffee morning with Graham Clark.  On this morning I had the pleasure to mingle with fellow educators, architects, designers, writers…innovators. The core message was that education has a lot to learn from other creative cultures and their ways of thinking should be injected into our system of education. We need to collaborate to design and create new ways of doing. We do have a surprising need for strangeness (TedTalks, 2013).

A key question asked by this course was “What processes are required to make the shifts from teacher or institution centred environments?”  This is an extremely important issue to grapple with because even with the advent of new technologies much teaching is not student centred.  Mandated curriculum is not student centred and is still very much content focussed. How to make the change – perhaps through redesigned spaces?  Certainly through redesigned curriculum and pedagogy.  I think one way is though acknowledging that space and pedagogy do go hand in hand and one does effect the other. Many of us teach in classrooms better designed for old pedagogies. I have certainly experienced the liberation of teaching in well designed spaces  and have seen how new spaces inform my teaching as well as improve my students reactions to my teaching.

What of the future?  Who knows… but we do need to begin to challenge a system that puts us in classrooms of the old. We need to challenge our own assumptions about how spaces for learning look and function…indeed how learning looks.  Even the assumption that form follows function is to be challenged. The beauty of design thinking is that though a cycle of observation, experimenting, prototyping and redesigning we can make space and pedagogy look very different. Change is needed. Disengaged and disenchanted students will be the reminder. We may use built pedagogies as tools to initiate and leverage those changes. The task ahead is to lead by intentional design.

One final thought of reflection: Should learning spaces be viewed as a tool  to support learners as problem solvers – in dialogue with each other? If so then the thoughts of Helen Haste (HarvardEducation, 2009) are perhaps relevant.  Haste views the problem solver in dialogue – operating socially.  Perhaps space can be viewed as a tool to support the social problem solver. The problem solver is then, as mentioned by Haste, transformed through the use of the tool – in this case the designed learning space.  With such thinking we begin to see learning space as an extremely important part of any learning journey.

In conclusion, one of the magical parts of  this M.Ed journey has been studying alongside a few key people. A huge thanks goes out to Graham Clark, Heather Baillie, Matt Ives and Bec Spink.  Thanks for helping me disrupt some zones of familiarity. To Bec….congratulations on your finish.

Please gift me with your thoughts.


Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689.

Dovey, K., & Fisher, K. (2014). Designing for adaptation: the school as socio-spatial assemblage. The Journal of Architecture, 19(1), 43-63.

HarvardEducation (2009). Technology and Youth: Problem Solver vs Tool User (part 1 of 4). Retrieved from

Hatchuel, A., & Weil, B. (2003). A new approach of innovative design: An introduction to C-K theory. Retrieved from

Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in innovation acceleration : transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston : Pearson

Leonard, R. (2007). Spaces for learning: Richard Leonard urges architects to embrace the new education pedagogies and to “use the physical environment as a major reform element”. Architecture Australia, 96(5), 59-66.

Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important?. Review of Educational Research, 0034654312457429.

TedTalks (2013). Maria Bezaitis: The surprising need for strangeness. Retrieved from

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One Comment
  1. Dear Simon,

    Great reflection….I take my hat of to you and the fact that you have H&W in there…my mind still hurts when I contemplate those readings…one of my biggest learning curves this semester.

    I do agree with you about our ‘peeragogy’…it is pretty magical and unlike nothing else I have experienced before this course…it goes far beyond what I initially perceived as my PLN. 🙂

    Thank you for your congratulations…I am keen to follow along closely with the rest of your journey.


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