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Physical Design of Space to Support Learning

May 18, 2016 | Leonie Pock | Methods & Tools |

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Polona SirnikJana Repanšek_smallLearning being in the center of our work, we are constantly thinking of innovative ways to   bring it to the next level. Based on our substantial study of theories of learning and change, we about a year ago decided to devote our attention to the question of how physical design of the environment supports learning. We have teamed up with an architect to help us translate our understanding of learning into the physical design of our lobby that became an important part of our learning space.

By Polona Sirnik and Jana Repanšek, Center of Excellence in Finance (CEF)

At the Center of Excellence in Finance (CEF) we want to stay among the leaders of learning and knowledge sharing. We therefore constantly test boundaries and invite others to join us on our exciting journey.

Our job is demanding and very rewarding as we support capacity development for finance officials in South East Europe through learning. We help them with their reform efforts in the areas of public financial management, tax policy and administration, and central banking.

We believe that people learn when they have ownership over the process. Our approach to learning is therefore participatory. This means that we engage participants in the design, delivery and monitoring of our common learning journeys, building on their experience, intrinsic curiosity and motivation to learn. We invite them to be part of something meaningful, to make things happen. We strive to make our learning activities practical and in line with individual and institutional needs. We constantly check how learning takes place. In this regard we also examine how learning impacts individuals, their colleagues, and consequently, their institutions.

Based on our substantial study of theories of learning and change, we about a year ago decided to also devote our attention to the question of how physical design of the environment supports learning. We teamed up with an architect Jure Kotnik who helped us translate our understanding of and approach to learning into the physical design of our lobby.

 

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Our lobby – a key meeting place

The lobby is a key meeting place at the CEF and a place where learning happens in addition to the classrooms. We wanted a lobby where our participants would feel relaxed, motivated to learn, and stimulated to think differently, “out of the box.”

An inviting and stimulating environment 

Topics that people learn about at our workshops are demanding and environments where they are coming from are rather formal and in many cases also very stressful. Such environments result in people to close down and may also dodge any meaningful relationship building. In order for participants to open up and learn we therefore need an environment where participants feel at ease, eager to learn and perhaps change the way they do their work.

An open space with innovative elements

The architect proposed a set of innovative elements, such as a winning podium, office traffic signs, new names of classrooms and arrangement of a central pillar as an inspiration area that would act as conversation triggers and initiate informal contacts among people, while also relieving their minds and taking their brain into another realm of thinking. A relaxed and informal learning environment stimulates the brain to memorize more information and better connect the different pieces of the puzzle. To this end, the architect implemented “traffic signs”, marking for example the relax, and three deep breathe zones, and other mind- intriguing areas

See how our lobby functions in practice: https://animoto.com/play/GksrLO3G04WKo6x9oyfI7A and let us know what you think.

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Comments to“Physical Design of Space to Support Learning”


  1. Nadia von Holzen says:

    Dear Jana and Polona, thank you for your contribution. Lovely how you experiment with innovative elements. I would like to see the winning podium in action and profit from your deep breath zone. And yes, as facilitator I also see physical space as my ally supporting learning initiatives. Best, Nadia

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  2. From conversations with friends that work in different organizations or companies, one challenge to create a conducive space for learning is hampered by the corporate office design. In some offices it is not allowed if colleagues decide to get a couch and a table from the flea market to occupy a corner of their office. – That is so sad. The fact that the corner is created through the initiative of the people wanting to use it, gives this place an even greater energy!

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  3. Dear Nadia, many thanks for your comments and enthusiasm. Please see https://storify.com/CEFSEE/market-value-based-taxation-of-real-property-2016 to see the winning podium in action. I used the “deep breath zone” a number of times in my facilitation of events and it is calming for me and for participants. Also, it is amusing… it functions as an effextive ice breaker.

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  4. Dear Hynek, many thanks for your comment. Elements like furniture and colors can contribute to interior design that is supportive to organizational learning. However, before it is introduced, an institution has to work on its organizational culture and norms, for instance. It took a while for us to achieve our common understanding and mutual trust. Once we achieved this, all else was much easier. Change can be hard… but also very rewarding.

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  5. Nadia von Holzen says:

    Dear Jana, I see a lovely winning podium in action and people in laughter; indeed a playful reward for joint learning. Thanks for sharing. Nadia

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