Blog: Learning Through Teaching Others – Chris Carr, haa design

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The Education Buildings Scotland Conference seeks to bring together different sectors across the learning estate to celebrate what works in re-thinking spaces for learning. It allows them to share insights on what’s possible to support improvement. A&DS has invited a number of design professionals to share their ideas. The focus of the blogs is on the voice of young people. In this blog Chris Carr, Senior Workplace Consultant, haa design, writes about the many places that learning takes place – including the charity pub quiz…

“What is the shortest number of moves in chess to reach checkmate?”

I am not a chess player; never have been and never probably will be. I couldn’t even have given a good description of what checkmate is (apart from “it’s not a good position to be in”). I am however keen to constantly learn (not chess, but new information) and don’t really care about the setting, the occasion or the transmitter of knowledge.

The answer is two. It is called the Fool’s Mate and can only be achieved by black. (Hands up if you knew that?)

No Rules on Learning

Where did I learn this rather inconsequential piece of information? In a seminar on Game Theory? From a book about the development of IBM’s Deep Blue? No, it was during a charity pub quiz in Glasgow (which our team ended up winning by the way).

There are no rules on learning, and if anything, the proliferation of information means that we are either deliberately or subliminally expanding our knowledge base the whole time.

The recent educational projects we have been directly involved in (and other projects I have learned of through discussion with colleagues) have placed the democratisation of learning at their core. There is no right way or wrong way of learning and now, thanks to advances in pedagogy there is more choice in how you learn and where you learn.

Of the different types of learning, two are fundamental to the changes in pedagogy and as a consequence have resulted in changing educational spaces.

Learning Through Teaching Others

The first is learning through teaching others. Speaking from experience as someone who had to stand up in front of a class of 120 first year students to teach ‘Introductory Astronomy’, it is really only through having to explain concepts to others that you truly learn yourself. And even then there will always be a question that comes out of left-field and throws you off-balance. Asking a student, or group of students, to present their work to a wider audience places a burden not just on finding information, but on presenting it in such a way that others (who may not have a great interest or prior-knowledge of the subject) can find a ‘way-in’ to something new. Being able to teach others and respond to questions is fundamental to modern student learning, probably more so in further and higher education, but is even part of the Curriculum for Excellence. It places more emphasis on small groups (and the associated physical spaces and ‘sharing’ technology required to support this mode of learning) than the lecturer-as-performer and the 50-minute monologue.

Support and Trust

Educational spaces are now also being designed with nooks and crannies where students, either on their own or in small groups, can squirrel themselves away to work. Just as in workplaces, the underlying philosophy is less of ‘command and control’ and more of ‘support and trust’. Students have the freedom to learn (or not) outside the classroom. These spaces have to be fun too, since even when the task in hand is put to the side temporarily and students are engaging informally, there is always something to be learned. These environments have to allow students to relax, to interact with their peers so that they can ask that slightly left-field question about chess (when they should be discussing biomechanics or whatever) and to make the space their own for the short time they are using it.

Don’t underestimate the power of peer-to-peer and social learning. There will always be a need for solo, concentrated study and formal lectures, but if there’s not the opportunity for different types of learning then everyone loses.

Chris Carr, Senior Workplace Consultant, haa design

Image (detail): Students using one of the many social learning spaces dotted throughout the new Lanarkshire campus.

© UWS / Renzo Mazzolini

Find out more about the Education Buildings Scotland Conference here. 

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