Designing Active Learning Spaces for Higher Education: 5 Tips to Foster Engagement and Collaboration

Designing Active Learning Spaces for Higher Education: 5 Tips to Foster Engagement and Collaboration

In recent years, greater use of technology and remote learning in higher education has led to a shift in how learners interact within a classroom environment. Traditional lecture-style classrooms are gradually giving way to more dynamic and engaging learning spaces. The rise of active learning spaces in higher education reflects a growing awareness of the importance of student-centered learning and the need to adapt to the evolving needs of today’s learners. 

In a recent University of Kansas study, researchers found that limited access to active learning spaces forced students to self-sort based on either their social networks or their attitudes toward learning, which can result in a marginalizing force that pushes minority students away from certain areas of study. To improve equity and create space for all students to thrive, institutions should invest in more active learning spaces.

In this blog, we’ll explore the function of active learning spaces in higher education, as well as 5 tips for designing these innovative environments to foster engagement, collaboration, and enhanced learning outcomes.

Fostering Engagement And Collaboration With Active Learning

Active learning spaces should be designed to facilitate interactive, student-centered learning experiences. Unlike conventional lecture halls with rows of fixed seating facing the instructor, active learning spaces prioritize flexibility, adaptability, and technology integration. These environments encourage students to actively participate in the learning process by engaging with the course material and collaborating with their peers.

One of the fundamental features of active learning spaces is the flexibility and adaptability of the space. Often, this includes a variety of seating options, such as mobile chairs, adjustable tables, and even soft lounge seating. Selecting furnishings for the space that are flexible and adjustable allows instructors to easily reconfigure the learning environment. The adaptability of these spaces enables instructors to employ a variety of teaching methods, catering to diverse learning styles and activities.

Active learning spaces are also typically equipped with educational technology, including interactive whiteboards, large screens, and instructional audio tools. These tools enable instructors to present content in diverse formats and engage students in multimedia-rich learning experiences, while simultaneously facilitating peer-to-peer interactions and collaborative learning.

Northeast Lakeview College Makerspace
Northeast Lakeview College Makerspace

Benefits Of Active Learning Spaces

Designing active learning spaces comes with numerous benefits, including increased student engagement, enhanced collaboration, and improved learning outcomes. As such, these learning spaces promote student engagement by encouraging active participation and collaboration, which can lead to deeper understanding and retention of course material. National Library of Medicine research has shown that students in active learning spaces have improved learning outcomes, are more engaged, and develop stronger critical thinking skills.

These dynamic learning spaces facilitate peer connections, fostering collaboration and teamwork skills that are vital for success in the modern workforce. Additionally, they mirror the collective and technology-driven environment in many workplaces, preparing students for the demands of the real world.

Designing Active Learning Spaces In Higher Education

Providing active learning opportunities in higher education institutions is the key to deeper learning and improved learning outcomes. By developing more functional learning spaces that are effective and engaging, institutions can provide a more comprehensive and enjoyable college learning experience for students in all areas of study.

5 Tips For Designing Active Learning Spaces For Higher Education:

Northeast Lakeview College Makerspace
Northeast Lakeview College Makerspace
  1. Prioritize flexible furniture: To accommodate a variety of teaching and learning activities, choose modular and mobile furniture. Tables and chairs on casters, stackable seating, and adjustable-height desks provide the flexibility needed to reconfigure the space freely.
  2. Develop learning zones: Divide the space into zones or areas designed for different types of activities. For example, you might have a discussion area with collaborative tables, a presentation area with tiered seating for lectures or presentations, and individual workstations for focused study.
  3. Create space for technology: Ensure robust technology infrastructure, including reliable Wi-Fi, ample power outlets, and audio-visual equipment that’s easy to connect and use. Technology should integrate smoothly into the learning space, so consider a collaborative media wall, tables with built-in power outlets, or tables with integrated storage for supplemental learning tools and technology.
  4. Consider comfort: Prioritize ergonomic seating and workstations to enhance comfort during extended learning sessions. Pay attention to the design and aesthetics in the space by incorporating natural lighting wherever possible, using acoustic design to minimize noise and distractions, and creating an inviting atmosphere through colors, fabrics, and artwork.
  5. Design for accessibility: Ensure that the space is designed to be inclusive and accessible to all students. In addition to ADA compliance, consider the needs and preferences of students with physical disabilities, as well as those with sensory impairments. Students with disabilities can benefit from the flexibility and mobility of the furniture in an active learning space, so providing a variety of options is key.

As higher education continues to evolve, active learning spaces will play a crucial role in shaping the future of teaching and learning. By prioritizing flexibility, technology integration, accessibility, and student comfort, educational institutions can harness the benefits of well-designed active learning spaces to enhance the overall learning experience for their students.