Research & Evidence

Wall spaces becomes a focus for creative digital work at South London Gallery. Photo Lauren Willis
Wall spaces becomes a focus for creative digital work at South London Gallery. Photo Lauren Willis

Dedicated spaces for learning in our museums, galleries and built and natural historic sites – separate from gallery or other provision – are essential. 

Having a dedicated, safe space where different types of learning can take place allows organisations to cater for the widest possible audiences, including visitors with additional needs.

The environment in which we construct new knowledge has an impact on what and how we learn. Good spaces for learning enable our audiences to engage in a myriad of ways. There are many practical considerations to bear in mind and much research underpinning the guidance set out in this publication. For example, evidence tells us that having a wellventilated learning space with natural daylight and good acoustics is not a luxury: it improves the attainment and experience of learners using the space.

Impact of environment on learning

Learning is an embodied, social and spatial experience[1].

You cannot separate learning and the experience of the space in which learning takes place. Children in particular do not differentiate between what adults would see as ‘learning content’ (e.g. objects, labels) and aspects of their surroundings (e.g. lighting, sound, flooring). Instead children assume all elements in a space are learning resources and accordingly try to construct meaning from the whole, rather than discrete elements[2].

Decoration, furniture, lighting, sound, thermal comfort and air quality all play a part in creating effective learning spaces.

Before you start planning your learning spaces stop and consider your own, and your organisation’s, pedagogy for delivering learning. Our checklists feature good questions to ask yourself about what you know and believe about learning. This information should inform how you plan your learning space.

Research on how people learn

Professor Stephen Heppell’s website contains links to a wide range of evidence and research on how environment affects learning, and to the Learnometer project.

Those designing learning spaces need to steer away from the 19th Century idea that spaces for learning should create an environment that stills the body allowing the mind to work unhindered. The emphasis can easily slip in to creating spaces that make the body perfectly comfortable, but with the aim of allowing learners to focus solely on ‘thinking’ with their minds. This approach ignores the greater impact that embodied learning has on developing and retaining new information.

References

[1]Lave J and Wenger E, Situated Learning, Cambridge [England], Cambridge University Press, 1991.

[2]CapeUK and Renaissance North West, Creative Spaces: Children as co-researchers in the design of museum and gallery learning, Renaissance North West, 2000