Blurring the Boundaries of Formal Learning Spaces

On campuses around the world, educational spaces are becoming more like everyday spaces. Portable devices, constant access to Wi-Fi, and digital course information now allow for both focused work and group work to take place anywhere, so many spaces are shifting to serve multiple purposes.

Students are looking for areas that support creativity and socialization, collaboration and conversation, and seamless technology access to enhance the way they learn. We are seeing a shift toward the casual, creative atmosphere of cafés and other places where people come together naturally to form a sense of community and make students feel at home.

What about traditional libraries? How can they evolve to meet this demand? The flexibility of the space and furniture are going to be key.

Deborah Harrop and Bea Turpin carried out a study at Sheffield Hallam University, to explore learners’ behaviors, attitudes, and preferences towards informal learning spaces in higher education. The findings revealed that user preferences for informal learning spaces can be identified through 9 attributes:

• Destination – Where learners go to study
• Identity – The ethos of the space and how it should be used
• Conversations – Collaboration and interpersonal communication
• Community – Social interactions, support and sense of common purpose
• Retreat – Privacy & quiet study
• Timely – Just in-time and on demand access to spaces and their resources
• Human factors – Ergonomics of workspaces & physical attributes
• Resources – Access to technology
• Refreshment – Access to food & drink

A summary of each attribute can be found in this infographic from Taylor and Francis Online’s Librarian Resources blog, which can be used to evaluate existing spaces and provide a clear identity for other libraries or learning spaces undergoing developments. Their key conclusions included developing a portfolio of discrete, interrelated learning environments, offering spaces with a clear identity, and encouraging students to translate their learning preferences into space selection.

Our Kimball Learning offerings echo these sentiments. We strive to design spaces where students can gather, learn and grow in whatever way best supports their individual education journeys.

Inside our newly released Kimball Learning flipbook, you’ll find examples of comfortable, flexible, collaborative, and technology‑driven solutions for classrooms, cafés, libraries, offices, and every learning space in between. View the full overview here: Gather. Learn. Grow.