DECADE: 21st Century learning spaces – space to succeed

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In 2015 A&DS celebrated 10 years and following a series of 10 events on 10 key topics a publication of reflections was published at the end on 2015. Throughout 2016 – the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design – we re-publish extracts from the publication on each topic. This extract looks at 21st century learning – space to succeed.

The challenge of twenty-first century learning is in creating spaces to succeed, based on equity of access that’s personalised to learner needs. This is about the design of relationships, methods of interaction and the whole learning experience. It changes our concept of ‘school’.

Twenty-first century learning is about learners co-creating their own learning journey. This involves trust, blended learning experiences, social learning and adapting to need. It’s also about ensuring relevance and a richness of experience. It means using different spaces in different places and re-using the same space for different purposes to create distinctive, relevant, purposeful and responsive experiences.

The Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce has asked how all learners, young and old, can be the best they can be. The school experience is vital for many, an opportunity to build social and collaborative skills, as well as technical knowledge. So, how we design spaces within schools and in places really matters.

At the DECADE event, participants identified four priorities for the design of twenty-first century learning environments:


  • A focus on creating places where people want to be – a prerequisite for participation.
  • Equity of access, so no matter who you are or where you’re from, you can access learning in a supportive environment.
  • Schools as spaces to connect learning, services and enterprise opportunities. Learning should be without boundaries and supported within the community.
  • Evaluation and adaptability. Why do we build for 20 years? How do we know what we build today will work in 20 years? Shouldn’t we build to adapt, test settings and evaluate what works as we go, changing things as required?


Our learners learn in a time and place beyond the building. And people should have a sense of ownership of buildings and learning decisions. That’s the key if every learner is to find his or her space to succeed.

Diarmaid Lawlor,  A&DS

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