New learning spaces: the battle continues

I’ve spent the last two weeks researching, thinking, brainstorming, being smart, feeling dumb, all of the normal processes that go along with trying to outline some ideas for an upcoming project. Essentially it has to do with the last two posts that I have written about here, that mainly concern themselves with establishing some points of contact between social media tools and eLearning.

Image by James Sarmiento

I came very close to coming up with an article outline and talking to a supervisor at my library school to help me along the process of completing such a project when I found that some substantially similar work has been completed by Dr. Leslie Farmer who will be presenting her paper, Library E-Learning Spaces, at this year’s IFLA Conference in Milan. (Jealous? I am.) I highly recommend you read it.

The part of Dr. Farmer’s paper that interests me the most, and I think has the most forward-looking approach is her outlining of “underlying theories and principles.” Check it:

Current literature about learning spaces refer to built education: “architectural embodiments of educational philosophies” (Monahan, 2002); “layout, location and arrangement of space” as it impacts behavior (Strange & Banning, 2002, p. 15); how spaces impact teaching and learning; may apply to the intentional design and use of space as a teaching/learning environment. They also contrast the terms “formal learning” (curriculum-based, which is often classroom-based intentional opportunities for learning) and “informal learning” (serendipitous human interaction that involves learning).

Cannon’s 1988 extensive synthesis of research on the impact of the environment on learning provides a starting point for learning space discussion. Basically, contemporary design of learning spaces builds upon an educational philosophy of active and social learning. This approach starts with the student learner, examines desired outcomes, and plans the physical conditions for an optimum learning environment. Keeping in mind instruction and learning style variances, learning spaces are designed to provide differentiated areas and grouping arrangements. In addition, items within these environments should support modification and customization to reflect users’ interests and needs.

It is my contention that social media and web/library 2.0 tools do much in the way of providing a customizable and intentional learning space when specific tools are chosen for a specific task, and not just cobbled together from a misguided desire to include technology in learning because is new, or educators feel that they “should.” (Along those lines, Josie Fraser‘s project in the UK, Digizen, just posted a nice checklist of sorts for evaluating social networking services which is worth a look.)

There also seems to be a discussion on Twitter and now a blog post going on at the OpenEd conference here in Vancouver about education, content and community, all of which have ties to the concept of intentional learning spaces. As I understand from this conversation, social media tools are already being used in a positive, constructive manner to create digital learning spaces and even to become, in some cases, educational communities that coalesce around a topic and can ideally continue outside of the bounds of any particular course or assigned requirement.

Keeping that in mind, now I believe the challenge lies in exploring what current options exist for creating a functional and customizable social media learning space, and in identifying the salient elements of those learning spaces that are supported by contemporary learning theories identified in work akin to Dr. Farmer’s. Too bad I can’t make it to Milan.

References cited in Dr. Farmer's paper:

Cannon, R. (1988). Learning environment. In D. Unwin & R. McAlees (Eds.),
Encyclopedia of educational media communications and technology
(pp. 342-358). New York: Greenwood Press.

Monahan, T. (2002). Flexible space and built pedagogy: Emerging IT embodiments.
Inventio, 4(1). Accessed Aug. 13, 2009, from

Strange, C., & Banning, H. (2002). Educating by design: Creating campus
learning environments that work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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