How active learning spaces support an evolving pedagogy

One of the most meaningful recent shifts in higher education pedagogy is the increased interest in and adoption of active learning. In contrast to lecture-style courses, which leave limited time for student participation and discussion, active learning emphasizes student questions and interaction. This style of learning uses projects and group activities to drive participation and collaboration. Given the unique activities involved, active learning requires a different kind of physical classroom space than a standard classroom.

While many types of active learning exist on college campuses, universities can use three lessons from early adopters to smooth the transition to this new classroom layout.

Lesson 1: Prioritize physical changes over technology upgrades

Institutions with established active learning classrooms found that lower-resource changes typically lead to an outsized impact. Relatively simple physical modifications—such as whiteboards, swivel chairs, or tables with wheels—can have a greater impact on learning outcomes than expensive technology. Monitors and screen-sharing technologies, on the other hand, are expensive to install and maintain and will quickly become outdated, which requires an additional cost to replace.

Impact Versus Cost of Active Learning Classroom Elements

Impact Versus Cost of Active Learning Classroom Elements

Lesson 2: Adapt to increased space requirements

Active learning classrooms require more space—approximately 35% more square feet per student. These spaces also require relatively small classes of no more than 45 students. This inherent space inefficiency is necessary to the design of active learning classrooms, which require space for movement and collaboration that lecture-style rooms do not.

Sample Design of an Active Learning Classroom

Sample Design of an Active Learning Classroom

This increased space requirement is often problematic for facilities leaders, who want to curb unnecessary growth in square footage. However, a schedule which allows active learning classes to meet less frequently can help institutions remain space neutral. In lieu of class time during every session, students can complete projects or watch online lectures, allowing the registrar to assign another course to the active learning space during that time. In this way, the institution avoids additions to its overall space inventory, which keeps space neutral while still providing the benefits of active learning.

Lesson 3: Provide student space outside the classroom

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Cost-effective active learning not only requires more classroom space, but also additional spaces for students to collaborate outside of the classroom. You can repurpose unused “dead” space with additional after-hours access, when these classrooms are designated study and collaborative space. Avoid the need for new construction with the addition of movable furniture and whiteboards to hallways and lounges frequently used by students.

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