The Importance of Physical Space in Creating Supportive Learning Environments

The Importance of Physical Space in Creating Supportive Learning Environments

The Importance of Physical Space in Creating Supportive Learning Environments

The Importance of Physical Space in Creating Supportive Learning Environments


Faculty and students alike have become so accustomed to meeting in spaces that are sterile in appearance, unable to accommodate different instructional approaches, and uncomfortable in supporting adult bodies that most have taken these conditions as a fact of college life. The lack of extensive dialogue on the importance of learning spaces in higher education environments prompted the essays in this volume.

The chapter authors look at the topic of learning spaces from a variety of perspectives, elaborating on the relationship between physical space and learning, arguing for an expanded notion of the concept of learning spaces and furnishings, talking about the context within which decision making for learning spaces takes place, and discussing promising approaches to the renovation of old learning spaces and the construction of new ones.

This volume is also augmented with a Web site ( that contains diagrams, virtual tours, additional documents pertaining to learning space design, and links to other relevant sites.

This is the 92nd issue 89th issue of the quarterly Jossey-Bass publication New Directions for Teaching and Learning.


Nancy Van Note Chism

We know too much about how learning occurs to continue
to ignore the ways in which learning spaces are planned,
constructed, and maintained.

From the instructor's station at the front of 313 Fulton Hall, the view would be comical if it weren't so frustrating. Looking out on this undergraduate class in information science, the instructor sees the backs of forty computer monitors facing him, rather than the human beings that they hide. One wonders if the cyborgs have arrived. At the front of the room, the technology is wonderful—a speedy machine, a nice large display screen. There is very little surface for the instructor's materials, so he has piled his notes and books on a chair.

The instructor begins class with a greeting and takes attendance by walking up and down the center aisle, which affords him a sidewise rowby-row view of the students sitting at the monitors. He then provides an overview of the main concepts he wants students to work with and uses presentation software to display a nice outline. While he talks, he tries to connect with students, but since his view is quite obstructed, he once again takes to walking up and down the aisle, having to return periodically to advance the slides. Some students are paying attention and taking notes; others are surfing the Web or doing e-mail, unable to resist the distraction before them.

A proponent of active learning, the instructor next has an exercise that he would like the students to do in pairs. He posts the activity on the screen, gives very clear directions, and begins to circulate as the students work. It is easy enough for the students to pull chairs together to work on one computer for each pair, and they become engrossed in the exercise, which involves evaluating Web sites. As the instructor walks around, he can talk with the groups closest to the center aisle, but those who have chosen to sit toward the walls on either side are not within his range. It is clear that the only collaborative computing work he can assign must involve pairs since . . .

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