Finland’s Thoughts on Learning Spaces

Finland is not only shifting learning and teaching out of the industrial mode but they they have amplified space design as another pillar of this movement:

Learning is inseparable from the physical environment in which it takes place, and architecture is an integral part of the functional design of the school environment (Jetsonen).

And in that the authors are highly critical of the design of these types of learning environments:

Pupils seated in orderly rows listening attentively to the teacher, who sits lecturing from a desk on a raised platform in front of the blackboard: this was the authoritarian didactic setting of the traditional classroom. …schools were viewed as something akin to adult establishments such as offices, factories or hospitals, or disciplinary and custodial institutions such as army barracks, mental hospitals or prisons. Like these institutions, schools upheld the same demand for unflagging self-discipline and fortitude, with schoolwork perceived as something comparable to forced wage labour, instilling in the students an appreciation for the freedom conferred by occasional breaks and recesses. The orderly interiors of old schoolhouses trace back to the medieval scriptorium, the libraries where monastic scribes worked in neat rows seated at their writing desks… residential buildings and factory halls (Jetsonen).

That is a mouthful but speaks directly to the problem too many students see as they open the door to their classroom, a learning environment designed for compliance, consumption, content, and isolation.

Take a look at the spotlight on a variety of learning spaces in their white paper or this case study on one particular school design. Notice how everything is designed with intent and intricately linked to how people learn along with four identified key tenants:

  • open
  • transparent
  • adaptable
  • flexible

What about your school? your classroom? Are they designed with such tenants? Are these designed to maximize student learning and experiences as well as teaching in the way we envision these today and tomorrow?

If your schools aren’t designed with learning in mind, consider starting with these two questions that guide Finland’s design:

  1. In what type of environments does learning take place today
  2. What kind of physical settings are the most conducive to successful learning?


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