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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

Learning Spaces for 21st Century Students

November 27, 2013

To assist academic, finance, and facilities planners and officers, the Learning Spaces Collaboratory, with support from the National Science Foundation, recently issued a free web-based guide for assessing and developing learning spaces. Designed to spark improved decision making, the guide illustrates how campuses—many of which have classroom spaces deeply embedded in 20th century layouts—can incrementally plan and build learning spaces for 21st century students.

More than 50 campus leaders helped develop the guide, which features 16 college/university examples—including photos and floor plans—of spaces that improve learning. Many of these spaces had pedagogy "champions," leading to numerous layouts and academic delivery variations. The intent is to continue adding campus projects and their pertinent details to this document.

Many stories illustrate how incremental steps, such as changes in furnishings and technologies, can transform existing spaces. Think of the power of having a "sandbox" space for experimenting at modest cost, setting the stage for scaling-up what works in ways that serve your institutional strategic initiatives. From a sustainable perspective—because existing higher education square footage encompasses more than 5 billion square feet—it is critical to assess and renovate existing classrooms to become vibrant new learning spaces. Anticipating new construction, this guide can spark a robust discussion of a project's ramifications: the initial cost, as well as the total cost of ownership in terms of the incremental cost of operations and ongoing adaption in the future.

Capital budgets for facilities are tight, thus it is essential to "get it right" the first time. Understanding how others have answered questions about what, how, and where students learn will inform your planning process and help determine what kind of spaces will work for your community. 


Sally Grans Korsh
Director, Facilities Management and Environmental Policy