Responsive Learning Environments


How do we Plan a Responsive Learning Environment if we don’t speak the same Language?

Practice Theory tells us that the learner and the learning environments are active.  This transactional perspective also recognizes that the learner is shaping and influencing his/her physical and social environments, and s/he in turn is also being transformed by them.  What does this mean? And what behaviour is changing that indicates that learning has occurred? Does being active also translate into being engaged in an activity?  What does it mean to be engaged in an activity? Can we describe (1) peripheral engagement, (2) guided engagement and (3) full engagement?   What do these actions look like? Furthermore, is being engaged the same for the learner in a primary environment as opposed to the learner in a secondary or tertiary settings?  

These questions have been raised for a variety of reasons; a number of these concepts are being used by design professionals, educators, psychologists, researchers, and administrators to support ideas about how spaces can (or should) be designed.  The same words are used by these professionals, but they mean different things to each discipline.  We think we understand what each is saying and, in fact, we don’t.  For example flexible to an educational planner might indicate that the furniture, tools and resources in the spaces can be arranged and re-arranged routinely; however to an educator, flexibility might suggest  how the teacher adjusts everyday to new situations in the classroom.  As a result, these concepts have been watered down to mean anything and everything.  What really is an innovative learning environment? Can anyone really describe what a 21st Century Learning environment is? And is a 21st learning environment the same for all cultures in all places? As these words become more and more diluted they have lost their value, meaning, and essence.  Given this, should we come together from the different disciplines to develop a vocabulary and language to understand one another and advance the design of the active learning environment?


Peter Lippman

EIW Architects


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