This coming Wednesday, I will be presenting our initial work on Learning Spaces at the 2013 American Educational Research Association. Below, I provide a description of the presentation.

Buildings are designed today based on an understanding of physical requirements (e.g. lighting, crowding), environmental behavior design (Scott-Webber, 2004) and proxemics (Hall, 1959), the theory of how a person uses a space in relation to the culture. The design of learning spaces is more complex. Monahan (2002) explains that learning spaces have a built pedagogy or “architectural embodiment” of learning theories (p. 4). When people enter a learning space, they should understand the contributing learning theories because of how the space is designed. Designers of learning spaces should draw on current learning theories to ensure that the affordances of the spaces contribute to the learning process. Recent case studies (Oblinger, 2006; Holtham, 2006; Siddall, 2006; Lombardi & Wall, 2006; Barber, 2006) have provided examples of recent designs of learning spaces, but many explanations for the guiding learning theories upon which the spaces were designed are lacking in depth. Although a learning space has a built pedagogy, it is troublesome when the designers of a learning space fail to explain the learning theories upon which the space was designed. The failure to explain the learning theories implies a lack in understanding of research that will inform and assist in the design of future learning spaces.

The purpose of our AERA presentation is to provide an overview of our instrumental case study (Stake, 2005) of the design of the Krause Innovation Studio where questions of guiding learning theories are addressed in depth. An instrumental case study presents a “particular case (that) is examined mainly to provide insight into an issue or to redraw a generalization” (Stake, 2005, p. 445). The instrumental case study approach is useful because the research question and issue of interest is around notions of how learning theories contribute to the design of a learning space (Yin, 2003). The key design stakeholders of the project were interviewed and design documents were used to triangulate the findings in the study.

Initial results from the study demonstrate both an implicit and explicit use of learning theory in the design of the Krause Innovation Studio. For example, Dr. Scott McDonald, Director of the Studio, describes design decisions as follows:

“Decisions about why is the space open, why is it BYOD (bring your own device), why are these spaces designed for conversations… all that is underlayed by the idea that good teaching and learning environments require participation from everyone, in a sense that, there is a shared responsibility for the learning and that’s all derived from sociocultural notions of how people learn.”

Although the analysis of findings is ongoing, the quote above provides evidence that learning theories guided the design of the Krause Innovation Stduio. The significance of the study is in future uses of the instrumental case study that is described and documented in this presentation.


  • Barber, J. M. (2006). Eckerd College: Peter H. Armacost Library. In D. G. Oblinger (Ed.), Learning spaces (pp. 18.1-18.6). Washington, DC: EDUCAUSE. Available from
  • Hall, E. T. (1959). The silent language. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.
  • Holtham, C. (2006). City of London: The Sir John Cass Business School. In D. G. Oblinger (Ed.), Learning spaces (pp. 15.1-15.7). Washington, DC: EDUCAUSE. Available from
  • Lombardi, M. M. & Wall, T. B. (2006). Duke University: Perkins Library. In D. G. Oblinger (Ed.), Learning spaces (pp. 17.1-17.10). Washington, DC: EDUCAUSE. Available from:
  • Monahan, T. (2002). Flexible space and built pedagogy: Emerging IT embodiments. Inventio,
    4(1), 1-19. Available from
  • Scott-Webber, L. (2004). In sync: Environment behavior research and the designs of learning spaces. Ann Arbor, MI: Society for College and University Planning.
  • Siddall, S. (2006). Denison University: MIX Lab. In D. G. Oblinger (Ed.), Learning spaces
    (pp.16.1-16.6). Washington, DC: EDUCAUSE. Available from
  • Stake, (2005). Qualitative case studies. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (3rd edition) (pp. 443-466). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Oblinger, D. G. (2006). Learning how to see. In D. G. Oblinger (Ed.), Learning spaces (pp. 14.1-14.11). Washington, DC: EDUCAUSE. Available from
  • Yin, R. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods (3rd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

NOTE: This posting is cross-listed on the Krause Innovation Studio site.

How Learning Theory Contributes to the Design of a Learning Space

5 thoughts on “How Learning Theory Contributes to the Design of a Learning Space

  • April 26, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Will this be webcast or recorded? I’m on a committee for learning space redesign at U of Hawaii, would love to attend.

  • April 30, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Paul- I will provide an overview of the presentation later this week on this site. I’m happy to hear you are thinking about built pedagogy during the redesign of your space at Hawaii. Are there any specific questions that you are looking to get answered?

  • July 14, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I am very interested in your research and I am gradually becoming familiar with the literature in this field. My specific focus of research is in the philosophical foundations of education and I dabble in questions of technology and design from time to time. Every year I attend AERA and in preparation for next year, I would like to connect with people doing research on Learning Spaces. So I wanted to ask, if I may, about potential communities within AERA where research on Learning Spaces is explored. Is there a specific SIG, or a section within a division where this type of conversation takes place?

    • July 18, 2014 at 10:47 am

      Gonzalo, Thank you for your comment and question. We are fairly new to this field of research as well so I do not know of any specific SIGs in AERA around learning spaces. There are SIGs that may be similar in topic areas, for example, the Informal Learning Environments Research (SIG #49) group (although I am not familiar with this group). However, I do not know of any specific groups on Learning Spaces. If you find something that would be appropriate for us to join, please share.

      A few members of our team are planning to present and attend the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) Annual Conference next February, and I know that EDUCAUSE has researchers engaging in productive conversations around learning spaces, so that may be a good starting point. In the meantime, I would be interested in hearing more about your research and would happily share more about our research (email: mrook(at)


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