Learning Environments Are About Space(s) and Time


Having a panel discussion with the topic of “learning spaces” being one of the topics (check out some awesome spaces on the #LearningSpaces hashtag on Twitter),  one of the ideas that jumped in my mind was the importance of both the “space” and “time.”  What I mean by that is you can develop the coolest “learning spaces” ever, but if the time is not there to really go deep with our learning, how useful is the space?

Here is what I mean…imagine you develop the best space ever, with flexible seating and it started to look more like a “Starbucks” than a traditional classroom, yet the bell rings every 40 minutes or hour for students to go on to the next class.  What does the space matter if you do not have the time to utilize it?  Imagine being in the state of “flow” in these rooms, and moving from one amazing learning space to another, five or six times in the day; does the space really matter if we are in the cattle herding mentality of school?

I know that if I am in an environment which I feel is conducive to my learning, that time is important in this space.  When I plan to write at a coffee shop, I need a minimum of two hours before I will go because I don’t want to REALLY get into something, only to then be kicked out.

As a principal, we needed to meet a minimum amount of instructional minutes for each subject, and teachers would have to hand me a letter identifying the number of minutes and times that they would be teaching each subject for whatever authorities needed them at the time. What I made sure they knew was that if I walked into the classroom and the schedule said “math” that I wouldn’t be upset if they were deep into a social studies project.  I trusted that they would do what they needed and take the time that was crucial to really further the learning opportunities for their students and themselves.

I have talked about Ann Michaelsen and her school before and how they teach English for an entire day, math another day, science another day, etc., instead of teaching each subject a certain amount of time for each day, five times a week.  This goes back to the idea of “innovating inside of the box”; how do we really push the limits of learning while still ensuring that we are meeting the requirements of the “job?”

The space doesn’t really mean that much if you do not have the time to explore, and if I had to pick, time is more important.  Together though, the “space” and “time” are needed to really go deep.  Let’s make sure that is remembered in our focus on innovative learning environments.

I know that a successful workshop day for me is when we have used the entire day and are past time, and nobody seems to notice. Wouldn’t that be the goal for our students?


  1. Thank you for the post! A quick reply from the Netherlands. The central idea of this post is about creating the most effective learning space. That means making choices, and those choices depends on a multitude of factors. But I think it’s important to start with identifying and analyzing the learning proces first. When students need to learn some ‘simple basic facts’, I’m not so sure if it’s really effective to teach one subject this day, another subject the next day. We all know the rules about cognitive load, and the importance of and spaced repetition. But when the content matter becomes more complex and the learning process is more about relational levels of understanding (applying, synthesis, justify, evaluation, etc.) we need a learning space that supports this process, in time and support. We also need to look at the characteristics of the learners. Some students are helped with lots of time, others are certainly not!
    So I think the question of time and space in an effective learning space is more complex. What we need in education is flexibility, in space and time, based on pedagogical choices informed by the characteristics of the complexity of the content matter, specific learning process and the needs of the learners.

    February 23, 2016
  2. Len Tomasello said:

    I spent 48 of my 50 years at the elementary level as a teacher and school leader.Two of those years were spent as a school leader in middle school where I observed teachers trying to engage their students within 43 minutes periods. Oh, how I missed the “luxury” of extending a writing period to 2 hours, or using an entire afternoon for a science lab or a social studies project!! Many secondary schools are now using longer blocks of times which gives teachers a new challenge, but also more time to be creative. Thanks for the article…I’ll share it!

    February 24, 2016

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