What is Your Ideal Learning Space?

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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classroom designImagine your ideal learning space — a place that inspires you to focus, to problem solve, to create, to reflect. What would it look like? This question wandered through my mind last week and I started to play with the idea. I imagined a multi-purpose space designed for both solitude and conversation, collection and analysis, technology-rich and technology-free, struggle and relaxation.

This exercise prompted me to reexamine the spaces where I currently create and wonder how form and function impacts daily learning. As an adult, I have a significant amount of control over the organization of my space, but I was oblivious to how I was using the space to promote my own learning.

As a parent and a former teacher, I never asked my children or my former students to do this design exercise and compare this with their current environment. The following suggestions are ways to take this from a nice conversation to a more significant opportunity to connect and transform our spaces.

Practical Applications

  1. Design a piece of furniture that is connected to the needs of a contemporary learner. Student creates a vision of need(s) and virtually or physically creates a model of the furniture (e.g. huge beanbag with a table and speakers)
  2. Research different schools and work environments to look for physical spaces that capture the imagination and interest for a student. Interview someone from the school or work environment to see what inspired the creation. Have students present a photo montage as well as interview clips as well as concrete adaptations for their own school and personal spaces.
  3. Design a survey for the learning needs of the student body, collect data, identify trends, and propose ideas to the school administration based on a significant need that is affordable, functional, and attractive.
  4. Do a “walk about” of the school to observe how the halls, walls, and furniture communicate what the school values. Write a summary report of how it feels to be a learner in this school.
  5. Create a layout for a contemporary one-room school house. Research how the 19th century school house met the needs of a multi-age classroom. Identify the needs of a contemporary classroom, design and pitch an architectural vision.


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10 years ago

Learning space is more important than ever! I am convinced that learning space transforms teaching and learning. Students may not know how to articulate their needs, but they desire a space that is wireless, flexible, open, student-friendly, and collaborative. The traditional desks and chairs do not meet this description. Recently, we designed this type of learning space at Hillsborough Elementary School. If I had the money, we would transform every classroom to look like this.



Chrissie Wywrot
7 years ago
Reply to  sweber

Agreed! It’s just as true at home as in the classroom. My husband and I recently got a storage unit to “de-clutter” our house and it really upped my productivity as an entrepreneur with a home office!

David V Loertscher
David V Loertscher
6 years ago

Carol Koechlin from Canada and I have been on a rant for the past decade advocating that the school library be turned into a learning Commons and have recently submitted a grant proposal to a major corporation to encourage learners to design their own design thinking spaces in the traditional library space. It is about time that we rethink learning spaces, not only in the physical world but also in the virtual world. It would be wonderful to compose a list of showcase sites that folks could visit who have doen such transformations.

Ellen McNett
Ellen McNett
5 years ago

Point #4, the halls and walls of the school, are as important as seating or other furniture resources. Our district likes eggshell painted walls (my hallway is cement block!) Student work displays are up for months at a time, and are sometimes more reflective of teacher work than student work. Many classes display worksheets rather than original creations. What does all this say about the type of learning that is happening? Nothing good, in my opinion.