Five tips for active learning classroom design

From fluid spaces to flipped classrooms, British Gypsum share their views on how best to design spaces for truly effective learning

Active learning is all about engagement at a personal level, with research demonstrating that displaying learners’ achievements promotes involvement in the process. Memory and comprehension is enhanced when learners produce their own ideas, as opposed to simply absorbing the ideas of teachers and resources. Here, British Gypsum offer some thoughts on how best to design classrooms promoting active learning.

1. Display areas

Display areas support active learning through what’s known as retrieval practice, where learners view and recall information at regular intervals. It has been shown to be more effective than studying information once, or drawing conceptual diagrams relating to the information.

Well-placed displays encourage learners to view information frequently, and can be combined with teaching incorporating recall activity to reap the benefits of retrieval practice. This also allows students to integrate new information from lessons into what they have previously learned – building cognitive links between new and old knowledge is an important part of active learning.

2. Fluid spaces

For younger learners, creativity can be encouraged through varied, fluid spaces. Those with moderate complexity have been found to support cooperative behaviour in young children, and can be created through partitions, curved walls, etc.

Using innovative solutions such as magnetic plaster, idea generation can be reinforced by displaying learners’ work on classroom walls without the bother of adhesive materials. This method means learners have an explicit, visual way of referring back to previous lessons.

“Enabling pupils to get truly involved with their learning often means letting them work in their own space, such as a break-out room.”

3. Flipped classrooms

As well as giving learners more freedom, unusual or interrupted classroom layouts allow teachers to allocate areas to different types of activity. So, for example, while there might be an area for traditional learning, with learners’ desks facing a board at the front, there could also be play and art spaces, where children can learn by doing.

With adult learners, flexible classrooms mean different parts of the same space could be used for teacher-led lectures, group discussion, or small-scale collaboration. Here, teachers use a ‘flipped classroom’ to facilitate learner activity.

4. Acoustics

A reduction in psychological and physiological stress, through reduced noise levels, has a profound effect on active learning. Within the flipped classroom, where 20 learners might be speaking at once while collaborating within small groups, it’s important to limit sound reverberation. This can be achieved through acoustic ceiling tiles; the better the acoustics, the better the communication between individuals, improving social interaction and learning.

5. Break-out areas

Enabling pupils to get truly involved with their learning often means letting them work in their own space, such as a break-out room. Together, variety and choice breed creativity, a key factor for any active learning environment. In addition, a sense of ownership of the classroom has been shown to boost feelings of responsibility for learning.