Contemporary learning needs contemporary spaces

By Greg Whitby, 1 June 2017

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Here’s a question to ponder. When you walk into a dental surgery, do you expect it to look and function like it did in the 1970s? I suspect the answer is no. That is why we don’t expect learning spaces to look or function like they did when we were at school. Those traditional box-like classrooms with rows of desks were designed for another era when students were largely viewed as empty vessels and teachers as fonts of knowledge.

If we agree that the world has changed and the nature of work has changed, then it follows that schooling also needs to change. That not only includes what is taught and how but also where learning happens. Contemporary learning and teaching is best supported by contemporary learning spaces. Learning spaces that are flexible enough to accommodate all types of learners and all types of learning activities that develop the skills needed for today’s world.

This is why we refer to contemporary learning spaces that can accommodate large numbers of students and more than one teacher as ‘flexible’ or ‘agile’. Unlike traditional classrooms, flexible spaces allow students to be working on individual activities at their own pace or in small groups all within the one space. Flexible spaces have been shown to be more conducive to collaborating, researching, communicating and experimenting. More importantly, teachers have the flexibility to use a wide range of resources and technology to make the learning personal for each student.

Without seeing the new spaces, understanding how they operate and talking to students and teachers who use the space, it is easy to assume they are the ‘open’ classrooms of the seventies. They are not. We understand that the learning space can be great enablers for contemporary learning. These spaces provide more opportunities for teachers and students to learn from each other and with each other.

While we recognise that learning can happen anywhere under the guidance of an expert teacher, we also know that flexible spaces allow schools to be able to respond to the needs of different learners, as well as practices, priorities and technologies.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

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