Spaces for Inquiry-Based Learning: Learning Communities

One of the main characteristics of 21st Century Learning is a focus on inquiry. Building a culture of inquiry requires instructional spaces that are flexible while retaining the ability for teachers to supervise and manage spaces.

So, where do you start when you sit down to design a school? There are functional aspects to a school that help to determine “sequencing”. This sequencing is based on things like safety, after-hours access and proximity of amenities and those who use them. We implement layered access by design: any person entering a school would encounter administration first, then the school gym and any other public spaces and finally the instructional areas. The school though, still needs to function as a whole for the building to offer the greatest opportunity possible to foster 21st century learning. We do this, after all for the students.

It is the instructional areas that especially contribute to 21st century learning. Developing a sense of community through “neighborhoods” or “learning communities” is an important aspect to this pedagogy so that students are encouraged to collaborate and learn through a project-based curriculum.

The traditional design for instructional areas is a “cells and bells” model, with a double-fed corridor. The goal of course being a silent hallway (until the bells), with students tucked away in their appropriate areas (cells). This is based on a lecture-style teaching method that we now know is not affective for the majority of students. More practically, long corridors take up a valuable amount of floor area in schools and are used only for circulation. The diagram below illustrates a simple formation of learning communities. Corridors areas are reduced and the opened up areas make the space more functional. These spaces can even become instructional areas, and these areas may be shared spaces. Furthermore, these spaces become central hubs to the learning communities.