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Flexible learning spaces

Space, whether physical or virtual, can have an impact on learning. It can bring people together; it can encourage exploration, collaboration, and discussion. 

Use the information in this section for identifying and planning how you can use digital technologies to support and include all learners in your innovative learning space.

What is flexible learning space?

A flexible learning space (FLS) can be easily configured and used in a number of different ways to support and enable a range of teaching and learning approaches on any given day or at any time of the day. They can adapt to a broader range of teaching and learning practices and groupings as a school’s education practices evolve over time. The FLS has the right acoustics, lighting, technology, heating and air quality to support learning.

Ministry of Education

Flexible learning spaces support strengths-based teaching. They offer students and teachers flexibility, openness, and access to resources. Working in an open, flexible learning environment where inquiries are shared, interventions devised collaboratively, and reflections based on both self and peer observations, leads to a more robust, continuously improving community of practice.

Digital technologies in ILEs

Digital technologies, when well used, can enhance all seven principles of learning.

Digital technologies:

  • engage learners and reinforce learner-centredness and the key roles of emotions and motivation.
  • facilitate collaboration and joint learning, including through the use of social media, underpinning the social nature of learning principle.
  • facilitate differentiation through systematic tracking of individual learning paths, achievements, formative assessment and feedback.
  • enable connections supporting horizontal connectedness.

OECD (2013) Innovative Learning Environments

Begin with a focus on student learning

When considering how to develop or improve your learning spaces, begin with a focus on student learning.

Mark Osborne (CORE Education) explains, the first step is to start with learning. Consider your school's vision for students, then identify the teaching strategies and environments that will help make that vision a reality.

Key things to consider
  • What is your school’s vision for learning? How are the school community involved in this vision?
  • What do you want learning to look like?
  • How can learning spaces be used, modified or developed to facilitate these approaches to learning and teaching?
  • How will technologies be incorporated so that all students are included? 
  • What resourcing and considerations are needed for planning an innovative learning environment?

Designing a flexible space which has the learner at the centre

Innovative learning environments should provide greater opportunities for students to organise themselves and engage in learning.

Students should be at the centre of your planning for flexible, multi-use spaces. Design flexible spaces that are respectful of, and responsive to, individual learner preferences, needs, and values, rather than requiring learners to fit your new the system.   

Identify how different technologies and spaces can provide learning approaches that support all learners. 

Involve students and their families in the planning process. 

This video highlights schools who are designing learner-oriented envionments, placing the learner at the centre of all decision making, and providing support for learners that is responsive to individual learner needs.

Buildings exist to support the activities that occur in them. When designing a building, careful thought should be given to making the building adaptable and agile enough to respond to both current and foreseeable future usage.

Innovative learning environments, Ministry of Education

Principal, Bruce Topham explains the key steps for Halswell School when planning, building, and creating an innovative learning environment that is part of the community. They:

  • began with a strong leadership team researching ILEs
  • worked with a good architect
  • invested lots of time engaging with and consulting the community.

Bruce explains, "The pedagogy was always at the forefront of what we were trying to do and when we did the brief for the architect, it was around delivering our ACTIVE curriculum."

Principal, Jane Danielson shares the thinking that went into planning their technological infrastructure at Hingaia Peninsula School.

Chris Bradbeer: Learning spaces

Chris Bradbeer, Associate Principal from Stonefields School in Auckland, explains the ideas behind the open learning spaces at his school in this EDtalk. The shift in ICT, pedagogy, locus of control, and better building designs help facilitate the idea of the environment being the third teacher and having a pedagogy of itself. He challenges us to think about how we can take down the walls in our schools, both metaphorically and physically. Chris's blog, open learning spaces – linking pedagogy and classroom design , provides his perspective on some innovative learning spaces in schools.

More information »

School stories

Enabling e-Learning videos sharing practice and experience from New Zealand schools developing innovative learning environments.

Teaching in innovative learning environments

Information, school stories, and resources to support teachers with getting started, working in an innovative learning environment.

Modern Learning Environments channel  

Videos showcasing modern learning environments in New Zealand schools from the EDtalks website. These videos demonstrate how the research into flexible, open learning spaces translates into action. 

Kurt Soares and Kirsty Soames, from South New Brighton School, describe how they started team teaching and constructed a collaborative space from a traditional classroom with their students. Kurt comments, "It’s been an easy process and it’s certainly improved learning in my class."

Remake your class: Exploring a collaborative learning environment

Part 3 three of series revealing the transformation of a crowded classroom to a space that facilitates new and deeper ways of teaching and learning enabled by the physical changes.

Student designed learning spaces

Anne Keneally talks about her decision to create a radically different learning space for her students from the one they are used to in this EDtalk. After a year long journey, visiting classrooms around New Zealand, she is now awaiting the arrival of her students to begin her trial of "doing learning differently."

Creating learning spaces

Anne Kenneally explores the changes in her students' learning as a result of allowing them to take the lead in deciding what spaces they need for different activities in this EDtalk. 

ICT leader, Fraser Malin describes how staff at Halswell School planned the infrastructure and incorporated technologies into their design for an innovative learning environment to support learning and teaching. They looked at how they could work together – teachers and students – and how technologies could be used to support their learning programmes.

Developing the infrastructure for new technologies

Developing the infrastructure for new technologies

Hingaia Penninsula School principal, Jane Danielson shares planning their technological infrastructure.

Developing learning spaces

Developing learning spaces

The senior management team at Hingaia Peninsula School describe how their vision to be creative, collaborative, and agile informed the development of learning spaces in their school.

Adapting single cell classrooms to create an innovative learning environment

Adapting single cell classrooms to create an innovative learning environment

Team leader, Lucy Fong explains how her team used their existing spaces to develop an innovative learning environment at Woodend School.

Learning design – How the people-based design process works

Learning design – How the people-based design process works

Stephen Collis (Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning) explains learning design must begin with the people that you are designing it for, a shared vision and values.

Learning spaces – Different spaces and their purposes

Learning spaces – Different spaces and their purposes

Stephen Collis (Sydney Centre of Innovation in Learning) explains Professor David Thornburg's cave, campfire and watering hole and how they can be utilised in both a physical and virtual learning environment.

What is a flexible learning environment?

What is a flexible learning environment?

Stephen Collis (Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning) answers the question, "What is a flexible learning environment?" He talks about the physical, virtual, and cultural layers that are involved and how they work together to create this environment. 

Planning for change

Planning for change

Graeme Barber, Principal at Woodend School, discusses the importance of having a shared vision as your prepare for change. When planning their new build, the community was involved.

Developing a collaborative learning environment in partnership with students

Developing a collaborative learning environment

Teachers from South New Brighton School describe how they constructed a collaborative space from a traditional classroom with their students. 

Students inquire into innovative learning environments

Students inquire into innovative learning environments

Team leader, Caroline Marris and year 7-8 students explain how they worked together to design their innovative learning environment.

Engaging with parents

Engaging with parents

Parents from Hampden Street School share how the school’s open door approach gave them confidence that their children’s learning needs were being met in an innovative learning environment.

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Developing the pedagogy and practice for an innovative learning environment

Woodend School Deputy Principal, Adrienne Simpson explains using the spiral of inquiry as a framework identify how to move forward with innovative learning practices and learning with digital technologies.

Innovative learning  in year 0–2

Innovative learning in year 0–2

Eilish Moran, teacher at Halswell School, explains the importance of encouraging students to be self-directed learners. Establish good learning routines which allow for student choice. 

Fraser Malin

Planning infrastructure to support learning

ICT leader, Fraser Malin describes how staff at Halswell School planned the infrastructure and incorporated technologies into their design for an innovative learning environment to support learning and teaching.

Fraser Malin using sound fields

Using sound fields

ICT leader, Fraser Malin explains how sound fields enable teachers to talk to students across a large and distant spaces at Halswell School.  

Pedagogy underpins practice in an innovative learning environment

Pedagogy underpins practice in an innovative learning environment

Gavin Burn and Cathie Zelas explain their process of moving from a traditional learning environment to an innovative learning environment at Halswell School.

Planning the new build, a school and community partnership

Planning the new build, a school and community partnership

Halswell School principal, Bruce Topham explains key steps in planning and building an innovative learning environment that is part of the community.

Collaborative teaching in a year 7–8 innovative learning environment

Collaborative teaching in a year 7–8 innovative learning environment

Team leader, Lisa Dovey discusses the benefits of collaborative teaching at Halswell School. 

Student agency in an innovative learning environment

Student agency in an innovative learning environment

Year 7-8 students, Ruby and Harriet explain how their innovative learning environment allows them to have control of their learning at Halswell School.

Collaborative teaching in a year 5–6 innovative learning environment

Collaborative teaching in a year 5–6 innovative learning environment

Anita Head, leader at Halswell School, discusses the enablers of student success within their innovative learning environment.

Year 5–6 Learning in an innovative learning environment

Year 5–6 learning in an innovative learning environment

Anita Head, team leader at Halswell School, explains how drawing on the individual strengths of her team allows them to provide a more refined programme for their students.

Year 3-4 Learning in an innovative learning environment

Year 3–4 learning in an innovative learning environment

Gabrielle Nuthall, teacher at Halswell School, explains how their innovative learning environment allows teachers to better meet the needs of their students.

Transition to an innovative learning environment

Transition to an innovative learning environment

Gabrielle Nuthall, teacher at Halswell School, talks about the preparation that took place before they transitioned into their ILE. 

NE–Y1: Creating a connected and innovative learning environment

NE–Y1: Creating a connected and innovative learning environment

Eilish Moran, teacher at Halswell School, explains how their innovative learning environment collaborative operates and connections with parents. 

An ILE supports learning

An ILE supports learning

Tamaki College teacher, Noelene Dunn describes how she changed her classroom into a flexible learning space and the innovative practices she uses to support learning.

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Join discussion groups in the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) to share ideas, find out what others are doing, and ask questions.

Enabling e-Learning community
Modern Learning Environments group

Join this group focused on designing spaces for student-centred, 21st century learning and discuss the intersection of pedagogy, curriculum, technology, and space. 

New entrant and Year 1 Modern Learning Environments group

Discussion focused on building knowledge about MLE pedagogy and technologies at new entrant and year 1 level.

Science education and Modern Learning Environments

Discussions for those considering what the role of the Science laboratory in a Secondary School as they build new teaching spaces.

Modern learning environments

This CORE Education white paper:

  • provides an overview of what a modern learning environment is
  • describes features of a modern learning environment and how student and teacher learning can be supported in the environment
  • includes useful reflective questions for discussion as schools look at changing their learning environments.
Government responds on digital literacy

Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye tabled the Government's response to the Inquiry into 21st Century learning environments and digital literacy report in April 2013. The PDF with Questions and answers on the Government's digital literacy initiatives  provides more information about:

  • the digital literacy reference group
  • Government investment into 21st Century learning environments and digital literacy
  • the recommendations Government has progressed. 
How can 20th century classrooms be modified to accommodate the needs of 21st century learners?

Helen Malcolm's sabbatical report provides research into learning environments that enable successful 21st century learning. She focused on:

  • what can be done to modify existing classrooms to make them effective 21st century learning environments
  • how ICTs have been incorporated into learning environments to maximise their use as learning tools and to support current pedagogy
  • how ICTs have been incorporated across the school – the rationale behind the big picture
  • what has been done to increase the teacher's ability to meet student learning needs.
Learning spaces and effective pedagogy: What does our space say?

A document to support school leaders facilitating dialogue on the design of learning spaces – both physical and virtual. The focus is on providing an environment that supports using technologies in a collaborative way for learning.

Learning spaces

This e-book explores the design of learning spaces in secondary schools. The focus is on planning for the use of technology to ensure learner success. It includes case studies with links showing innovative learning spaces.

Strengthening teacher's sense of effectiveness

This article is based on the OECD report: TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning. It examines:

  • the importance and benefits of collaborative practice
  • reviews different ways of collaborating – including team teaching – and policies and practices that support collaborative practice.
Planning an innovative learning environment

An Inclusive Education guide providing strategies and suggestions for developing ILEs that work for all leaners.

Future Learning Environments Conference

Recordings of key speakers from the conference in Auckland, August 2014.

Flexible learning spaces

Information and readings on developing modern learning environments that facilitate a variety of approaches to teaching and learning, from the Ministry of Education.

Modern learning environments

New Zealand teachers and school leaders describe and explain:

  • their modern learning spaces
  • their vision
  • the pedgagogy that underpins their design and practice.
Edorigami

A resource looking at possibilities for 21st Century learning spaces.

eLearning ICT showcases: Learning places and spaces

Information and practical examples of how schools design, maintain, and update IT infrastructure, learning places, spaces, and resources, to maximise learning opportunities from the Victoria (Australia) Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's website. 

e-Learning community discussions

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