Natural Born Learners – interview with Lene Jensby Lange, Autens Consultants

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Lene Jensby Lange is the founder of Autens, a leading Danish consultancy dedicated to re-imagining education and creating schools of the future globally. She recently collaborated on ‘Planning Learning Spaces’ – drawing on what works across the world. Lene will deliver the keynote at this year’s Education Building Scotland Conference.

In advance of Lene’s talk Diarmaid Lawlor, A&DS Director of Place, spoke to her about the Learning Estate Strategy focus in Scotland around the importance of learners leading their learning, and the Danish experience of investing time in the early stages of a project to shape a collaborative vision, and the role of teachers as innovators.

Diarmaid: You come across as an enthusiastic, interested, generous, global ambassador for learning. I’m curious, what’s your story?

Lene: We are all excellent learners. We learned to walk and talk, really complex, things to do. I’m interested in how we can tap into the resources of each person. How can we enable everyone to learn in ways where they can feel confident about who they are and feel that they’re a good learner?  

I find we have too many young people leaving school not knowing what they’re good at. They have learned that they’re not good learners. This is a tragedy. We all need to learn every single day going forward.  

To build our future lives, our future professions, we need to find things that are meaningful to us, provide joy. I did a lot of creative stuff when I was a kid. Nobody ever really stopped me. And that requires some free time, and not in school all the time! That was really valuable to me.

I believe one of the most important things is that children have choice and are able build an understanding of who they are as learners, act on it and begin to co-lead their learning.

Spaces can play a huge role in opening up the opportunities and choices for students, helping them to do something about their situation. It can also be about well-being.

Learners in flexible learning space

An ecosystem for learning

Diarmaid: Why are learning environments still important in the 21stcentury?

Lene: Schools are creating the future of who we are. In schools, we really need to think about what it is that we are developing – compassion, citizenship and generosity towards each other, empathy. We’re creating a kind of ecosystem around learning. School buildings are an architectural infrastructure for an organisation of future society and how it works.

Diarmaid: How important is choice in learning environments to support every learner to be the best they can be?

Lene: It is important to be able to feel okay as who you are. This needs enough empowerment to actually be yourself in a positive way. That doesn’t always happen if the opportunities are too narrow or everybody and everything is decided for you. If we look at adults, it’s actually one of the big factors behind stress-related leave when you feel you don’t have any influence over your work life. But too often, young people have too little choice.

And there’s also that thing when you look at how the brain works. If we do not create environments that feel safe and welcoming, we do not have access to our neocortex which is where we really learn and put things together. Students then stay too much in the ‘reptilian brain’, with routine, and stress. Learning suffers.

So, you want happy environments, with this feeling of everybody being welcome.

Helping Young People Grow

Diarmaid: Where do you begin creating great learning environments?

Lene: To me, it always has to start with pedagogy and with how we learn. What it is that we need to learn today, to build community, well-being, relationships? Spaces have to become an answer to that.

To understand this in terms of school environments, we talk both with teachers and students. We play together. We try to enact situations. We really look at the whole purpose of the environment. It’s about helping young people grow their minds, grow as a person, grow their lives and nurture whatever it is that they are going to do.

Diarmaid: How do teachers start to get bolder and more creative and more demanding and using the space as a resource?

Lene: Teachers innovate, every day. We find when you trust people, they pay you back with trust. We’re trying to create environments that really build on trust. And the ability to be yourself in the system, making an impact on spaces in different ways, put your mark on things.

We noticed that often we had great discussions with teachers, with great ideas and super visions for learning. However, when it came to space, they would just turn back to classrooms, with the same desks for everybody.

So, we started testing how to hack this process and help teachers cross the bridge to create spaces which invite students and teachers to work in different ways. We created the learning space design lab which has been selected by HundrED as one of the top 100 global innovations in education. The whole idea is to work hands-on, collaboratively, to experiment, prototype. It is playful; so, all of the ingredients that we know are really brain-friendly when it comes to learning, we apply them with teachers, and with students, to explore how their future spaces might look. We’ve worked with thousands of teachers now. Since we started working with this tool, we’ve not had a single teacher asking for a traditional classroom.

What we also see is that teachers become more collaborative and then sort of leave their classrooms and the ‘private teacher’, thinking. They think more about being a team, a professional learning community really, around a larger group of kids. They are able to be more flexible with the way they organise learning. It’s about becoming a learning community that, in my opinion, is much more alive and much more varied and more complex and allows for a lot of different opportunities for both adults and kids. To do that, you need time, early in the project for rich conversation and explore possibilities.

You can read the full transcript of the conversation by downloading this PDF: 

Lene Jensby Lange and Diarmaid Lawlor Transcript

Testing learning spaces

Education Buildings Scotland Conference 2019
Connecting people, place and learning


The Education Buildings Scotland conference 2019 focuses on the Learning Estates Strategyand the opportunities around ‘connecting people, place and learning’. The aim of the conference is to support more collaboration and opportunities for great design linking learning experiences from 0-80 for all learners. A&DS offer a ‘Test of Change’ service to support learners and teachers build confidence in new formats of learning spaces and make more of spaces we already have to support new ways of learning and teaching. You can find out more here

A&DS is delighted to support Scottish Government and Scottish Futures Trust across the two days at our shared stand in the main exhibition hall. You can find the conference programme here. We’d be delighted to meet you at the Conference, explain more about what we do, and how we can help you shape great learning environments for Scotland’s learning communities.



SERVICE: Design Advice for Schools

A&DS offers a design support to education authorities offering an external view, peer support, facilitation and learning networks.

Learner Journey Case Study

Architecture and Design Scotland works with schools across the country. Our focus is to help explore and test ideas for new and existing spaces.

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