The detail is in the design

The place for a learning commons has already been identified. How to use that space is still in the works – and it’s not a simple task.

“You used to go into a library with a notebook and pen – but it’s not just that anymore,” says Associate Professor of Industrial Design, Thomas Garvey. “There are so many other peripheral tools you use for learning now.”

Laptops, CD players, palm pilots, are all considered staples in today’s learning environment. Nowadays, a simple table and chair will not suffice as a fully equipped study space. There needs to be the appropriate facilities to incorporate these peripherals – from electrical outlets, to Internet connections.

And that’s just for one person.

Imagine now what’s required for a group study space. “When you get a group together, not only do you need space for the individual’s equipment, but you also need learning surfaces,” says Garvey. Learning surfaces include spaces for writing, brainstorming or sharing ideas, such as blackboards or projection areas.

And don’t forget – in Canada’s four-season environment – group study areas must also provide adequate space to properly store all weather-related gear, such as coats and boots.

After ensuring there’s enough space for people and their things, there are still many other factors to consider, such as flexibility, study-station specific lighting, and privacy.

“We used to design (study areas) that were locked down,” says Garvey, explaining that study stations are commonly attached to walls. “But we need to be able to change these, as needs change.”

The shape of study areas is also of extreme importance for a few reasons. “You can directly seat people around a table to affect productivity,” says Garvey. “A round table is more conducive to collaborative study.”

Semi-circular group study areas are also common, since they allow members to easily join or leave a group, and allow for partial screening around the space, to allow for privacy from other groups.

Although study space is an important part of a learning commons, it’s not the only kind of space required. “Comfortable social spaces are also important,” says Garvey. Breaks are a necessary part of study, and “conversations will continue during breaks, and in many cases, that’s where much of the learning takes place,” says Garvey.

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