The digital era has firmly grounded its position in our lives. The increasing availability of learning resources has been channelled through the internet. It is through the digital world that resource and learning constraints no longer exist.
Students are evolving and there is a new vernacular - a digital vernacular. We must appreciate that students of today learn in different ways and from this, shift our focus from education to life-long learning. Teritiary has shifted from the 'X' and 'Y' generation to the now 'E' generation way of thinking.
Designing the ideal tertiary learning environment for students is a challenging task. Learning environments are designed to suit or support particular learning theories. Often theories are based on physiological and sociological changes that take place when learning occurs – often described as the pedagogical philosophy. There are many different theories of how people learn and it is interesting to think about your own particular way of learning and to recognise that everyone does not learn the way you do. Traditionally they fall under three broad schools of thought—behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism.
By considering these theories in conjunction with the physical and material conditions that surround and affect our learning process, we are able to form key insights for designing appropriate learning environments. The psychology of learning needs to have the ability of being interpreted spatially.
The overview of the campus master plan is an important canvas point to begin holistically analysing the movements and functions of home base. For The University of Auckland, Massey University Albany, Waikato University and Manukau Institute of Technology, Warren and Mahoney looked at developing their campus master plans to consolidate their existing and proposed new stock into a coherent learning environment. By understanding the campus culture, vision and objectives, Warren and Mahoney was able to extract with the client fundamental design drivers for the campus development. Warren and Mahoney believes you are a product of your environment.
Careful consideration to where building and open spaces are located is critical to working with how students learn. Accessibility to the campus heart, location of the student amenities centre, lecture theatres and on-campus accommodation are some key contextual elements that compliment learning skills. The holistic approach will create ‘places of learning’, not just ‘spaces for learning’.
From a traditional sensory stimulation theory (Laird, 1985), the effects from learning occurs when the senses are stimulated. Vast majority of knowledge held (75%) is learned through seeing. Spaces designed to stimulate these senses, especially the visual sense, ensures that learning can be enhanced. Stimulation through the senses is achieved through a greater variety of materials, textures, colours, volume of spaces, and strong architectural form. Visual and accessible connections to other spaces and other course disciplines promotes cross pollination of ideas, knowledge and learnings.
We have more recently seen tertiary institutions departing from the traditional behavioural and cognitive-based learning theories and participating in the constructivism learning theories. This is where learning is a process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring knowledge - enabling a process of making meanings from experience. The responsibility of learning is with the learner.
Successful models of this practice include the training of architects. The learning environment is predominantly based on studio atmosphere where design work is presented in a public forum allowing each student to see their peers' work. Every student can witness their peers' thinking, processes and opinions and advice from internal and external critics is offered on the student’s work. The students are beginning to adapt into the practice of being an architect.
Around 75% of learning is via social interaction and reflection spaces. Suddenly 'social spaces' such as cafes, study, lounge rooms and stairwell landings are critical elements of a learning environment. These learning environments are design-based as ‘student-centric’, collaborative, co-operative, and experiential. Learning opportunities are not restricted to the classroom and lecture theatres – students read in hallways, study in cafes and take classes outside.
Student Amenities Centre buildings are often located in the heart of the campus. Their facilities are student-centred creating a large social hub. Both the University of Auckland’s Kate Edger Commons building and the new Massey University Student Amenities Centre in Albany are adjacent to large open spaces, and retail and dining facilities. Flexible study spaces and atria are communal social areas that enable student and staff interaction and provides learning environments that are flexible and adaptable for a variety of uses.
Student accommodation on campus enables cohesion between 'living and learning'. The learning environment should not be restricted to typical teaching spaces. Living on campus embeds itself into the learning culture so it is important that spaces are designed to be comfortable, multi-use and social. Dining, study and lounge spaces became important interactive spaces for learning. The learningscape is changing, boundaries are blurred between internal and external spaces and ways of teaching has broadened. Architecture has a fundamental role in shaping our learning environments by creating ‘places of learning’ and not just ‘spaces for learning’.
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