How to Design a Learning Commons


By: Randy Fielding, Cierra Mantz, Nathan Strenge

Challenge: Most typical regions are designed as secondary spaces, a spot for breaking out from the classroom. But as educational facilities completely transform from a conventional, classroom-dependent solution to a learner-centered solution, common locations turn out to be important hubs of finding out and as these, involve cautiously orchestrated style and design.

In recent yrs, a learner-centered model of training has turn into more and more common.  As a end result, we at Fielding International see an rising pattern in the eyesight statements of quite a few educational institutions: there is an emphasis on multiple pathways toward excellence and accomplishment for all pupils. These statements typically go on to contact out specific university student features and techniques these types of as holistic very well-getting, vital wondering, innovative difficulty fixing, technological and media literacy, interaction, and collaboration. At the exact time, most educators have started to admit that the actual physical studying ecosystem is a vital element in supporting their educational eyesight – the surroundings can catalyze, or hinder, wanted competencies.

One particular variety of house that comes up all over again and again as getting the possible to disrupt the isolated nature of the classroom design and align with the targets educational facilities have nowadays is the Learning Commons.  A well-designed Learning Commons supports each and every of the competencies educational facilities are striving to foster in their pupils therefore, it is an critical resource for any college in search of to reach learner-centered visions.  Despite people wanting obtain to Commons, they are usually badly intended and underutilized. So why do people want them in the initial put?

A effectively-designed Learning Commons is foundational for producing fluidly related areas that foster collaborative, interdisciplinary, and self-directed studying. A well-developed Commons functions spatial diversity which makes it doable to concurrently aid understanding experiences that integrate a range of learning modalities.  Spatial fluidity as well as spatial variety equals a type of spatial agility that responds to the genuine-time wants of little ones and grown ups alike, generating them suitable spots to cultivate dynamic communities built on interactions, belonging, and company. So, if Understanding Commons are so beneficial, and folks actively want them, what can historical past inform us about why they are frequently ineffective?

As early as the open up classroom minute of the 1970s and afterwards in the middle faculty pod motion of the 1980s, the plan of communal discovering places was explored. Finally, these explorations failed for several motives, a lot of of which have been spatial, such as a lack of spatial diversity and restricted connections to the outdoor (just to identify a few) but some of the good reasons can also be attributed to a deficiency of professional assets and academic programming in guidance of the design.

In the many years given that architects and educators very first attempted to disrupt the notion that the classroom should really be the primary area for mastering, we have created substantial progress concerning how we can design and style the bodily setting to be an educational asset in the discovering course of action.  This write-up will emphasis on the spatial structure elements important for a nicely-created Learning Commons.  Specifically, we’ll talk about six essential features for flourishing Discovering Commons:

  1. Sturdy indoor-outdoor connections
  2. Visible and permeable connections to adjacent spaces
  3. Various action zones
  4. Diverse furnishings, fixtures, and finishes
  5. Audio attenuation
  6. Obtain to drinking water and storage

Potent Indoor-Outdoor Connections

We can see many aspects that assist flourishing in the Style Pattern sketch earlier mentioned. Foremost, a link to the exterior that gives organic light and views is significant for nurturing a perception of wellness. In The Extended Brain, Annie Murphy Paul cites exploration that suggests students’ capacity to appear outdoors increases educational results. Even with the recognition of humans’ innate drive to be linked with mother nature, and exploration exhibiting its multilayered rewards, we see lots of flawed typical parts which are surrounded by classrooms–essentially, widened corridors–without a link to the outdoors. If the surrounding school rooms have purely natural gentle and the Finding out Commons doesn’t, the place will learners want to be?

An indoor-out of doors relationship can also be strengthened as a result of the use of pure constructing resources and finishes. In the image of Schiffer Collaborative University underneath, we can see how the use of nearby stone, wood, and all-natural mild contributes to an ambiance of magnificence and tranquil, mirroring the neighborhood landscape.

John Schiffer Collaborative University, Sheridan, Wyoming

Visible & Permeable Connections to Adjacent Areas

Strong visible connections and permeable boundaries among areas invite students to walk, observe and engage with their friends and their environments within and out. Interior home windows, glass doors, and movable partitions offer you learners the chance to shift outside their school rooms into adjacent job labs, finding out studios, outdoor classrooms, and cave areas where they can function independently and/or in teams while continue to receiving the advantage of visible supervision by teachers–an vital ingredient of security.  In addition to visually connected basic safety, learners have the prospect to connect with 4 to 6 instructors and all around 100-120 pupils, versus a person trainer and 20-30 students in a standard classroom. As such, very well-made Discovering Commons raises the odds that a learner will produce a close link with an adult and peers, improving their perception of belonging.

In the image under, from Saint Francis of Assisi Elementary, we can see how permeable boundaries and visible connections aid university student autonomy and collaboration amid learners and in between students and lecturers.

Saint Francis of Assisi Elementary, Kingston, Ontario

Numerous Activity Zones

Understanding is a sophisticated method that comes about in many ways thus, it’s vital that the sorts of obtainable spaces are designed to assistance a number of discovering modalities as properly as all aspects of the understanding procedure. In get to design and style for this, spatial variety is important.  In the Design and style Pattern sketch at the starting of the post, we see three exercise zones: little team and individual, job zone, and presentation.  While these three zones are not exhaustive of the forms of zones a Studying Commons may well have, they provide a framework for knowledge how various zones can be produced in a single open up space.  In addition to additional broadly defined action zones, for periods in which a learner desires a quieter, customized house, we give cave spaces, calming retreats, and smaller sized tables or booths for independent work and reflection. These spots let pupils to have personalized room whilst still currently being visually related to other folks.

In the impression down below, from South Clearfield Elementary, we can see how cave areas provide a feeling of partial enclosure–a place to feel secure, examine quietly, and glimpse out with curiosity and speculate.

South Clearfield Elementary Faculty, Clearfield, Utah

Different Furnishings, Fixtures, and Finishes

Every exercise zone has quite distinctive spatial capabilities and traits.  As these kinds of, the interior design and style factors, such as household furniture, fixtures, tools, and finishes develop into exceedingly crucial.  For household furniture, this means possessing a variety of seating preparations and varieties, which include a selection of gentle and difficult seating possibilities as very well as tables of varying measurements and heights.  Important fixtures and devices to look at involve, most importantly, lighting, but also audio-visual gear and know-how-enhanced furnishings for presentations and collaboration.  Last, but surely not least, finishes give a very important differentiator.  From acoustic treatment plans to flooring and wall finishes, the appear, truly feel, and general environment of a place is described by the finishes.  For this cause, it is critically vital that the finishes are intentionally chosen with the activity zones in brain.

In the image beneath of Norma Rose Point Elementary, we see that the places in front of the sink and inside of the mastering studios have effortlessly washable flooring that make this zone perfect for soaked and messy projects.

Norma Rose Place Elementary, Vancouver, BC

Audio Attenuation

Just one spatial characteristic that can make or split a Learning Commons is the acoustic layout.  Because a Mastering Commons is an open up, multi-zoned house, dampening the transmission of seem is crucial.  And still, we usually come across this to be 1 of the most overlooked layout features.  During a recent discovery stop by, the great importance of seem attenuation was strengthened above and about all over again. In advance of our arrival, university board management experienced toured an FI-designed school, Saint Francis of Assisi, and they were blown absent by how tranquil the learning environments felt.  In regards to the finding out commons, they pointed out how uncomplicated it was to have a discussion on 1 side of the commons at the same time that a group of college students was doing the job in yet another element of the commons, although concurrently an overall class had the garage door to a discovering studio open up and was shifting in and out of the space as they transitioned from action to action.

All of the exercise within the commons was able to co-exist mainly because the appears from every single action did not reverberate through the area the sound was attenuated by means of the layout and material variety for the ceilings, walls, and flooring.  In contrast, when we toured the latest school in their district, almost everywhere we went there was a cacophony of noise–even the areas that have been built to be calming breakout areas.  As a consequence, many employees customers had been reticent to suggest open up commons areas in future schools within just the district.  However, because the leadership team had experienced what a nicely-made commons can sense like, they grew to become the largest advocates once again and again countering any promises of how distracting open up commons areas are with how helpful and advantageous they can be when sound is effectively resolved in the style and design.

Chappaqua STEAM Commons, Chappaqua, NY

Entry to Water and Storage

As mentioned earlier, for learning that is ideal realized when college students get out of their chairs and interact in fingers-on actions, we deliver Challenge Zones.  These are places that have simply washer-friendly flooring, a sink, and storage. For before grades, the task zone may perhaps provide as a location for moist and messy engage in. While for more mature pupils, the exact location can be designed as a location for little projects or a smaller kitchen, a universal aspect that builds neighborhood and belonging

In the image underneath of Sinarmas Earth Academy, pupils are mastering Sumi-e, a form of Chinese ink clean painting, in the Commons.

Sinarmas Globe Academy, Tangerang, Indonesia


When a finding out commons is designed with an emphasis on strong indoor-out of doors connections visual and permeable connections to adjacent areas diverse exercise zones various furnishings, fixtures, and finishes and great sound attenuation, it in a natural way results in being the thriving heart of the learning neighborhood.  As the thriving heart, the understanding commons gets to be a put that fosters a sense of adore, assistance, and belonging, creating learners truly truly feel at ease and at house in their school.  And, when pupils feel cherished, supported, and provided, it’s probable to picture the cascading catalytic consequences this can have on mastering, creative imagination, psychological well being, social-emotional growth, and so much more!  So…despite a rocky background, really do not give up on the assure of vibrant Understanding Commons. When you go into a college where they are properly intended and instructors know how to use them, it is magical.


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