In order to guide the design of next generation learning environments, architects and planners must be knowledgeable of several learning theories. In recent years, the rise of evidence-based design throughout multiple industries has led school designers to engage in research on what it takes to create a successful learning environment. Can the responsive design of a learning environment motivate a student to learn? Furthermore, can it help eliminate anxiety and give a sense of identity to the learner.
While many of our known learning theories argue that the building or space in which learning occurs is simply a backdrop for learning, practice theory is often said to be the theory of focus for responsive designers. Today, many designed school buildings are a product of resistant design that neglects to emphasize the importance of teaching, learning and the learning environment equally affecting the individual learner. Practice theory sees both the learner and the environment as active. This is partially due to the idea within this theory that states learning requires three levels of dynamic participation: peripheral, guided and full engagement.
“The designers who embrace practice theory may be described as responsive, for they understand that human beings develop and acquire knowledge from their transactions with their environments.” -Peter C. Lippman
A designer understanding these issues fundamentally acknowledges that a student’s transactions influences their own environment. Consequently, the environment also influences the student. But how?
The responsive designer understands Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, first and foremost. Successful learning environments must provide varied spaces to meet physiological and safety needs at a minimum. When it comes to anxiety within a student, large transitions from one school to another can be troubling. Most of the time, the idea of leaving a nurturing environment of an elementary school to enter into a new, and unsettling environment, such as a junior high school, can cause a student to drop in performance due to anxiety. Educational village concepts have been seen as a growing trend among designers because of this notion.
Differing from the resistant designer’s cells-and-bells design, the responsive designer will also provide spaces that support multiple learning modalities outside of the traditional lecture format (i.e. independent study, collaboration, one-on-one learning, naturalist learning, etc.). Recent evidence-based design research has shown that the responsive designer can make great strides to improve student engagement and reduce anxiety just by creating different types of spaces that respond to the learner’s needs for stimulation, naturalness and safety. By also creating environments that promote choice, flexibility and connection, the responsive designer can appeal to a student’s need for relatedness while still promoting autonomy.
Ultimately, it takes both passive and active learning environments to engage students, and potentially, motivate them. While the responsive designer can help create an environment that will lessen student anxiety and help mediate learning, all while helping to motivate the learner, student voice in the design process is the missing ingredient in creating a truly motivating learning environment. Student voice in the design process has the potential to increase motivation in learning because it gives the learner a sense of identity. If we are designing learning environments to engage our learners, why not include them in the design process?