< Back to Main Site

EDUCAUSE review onlineEDUCAUSE review online

Learning Space Design Theory and Practice


© 2005 Malcolm Brown

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 40, no. 4 (July/August 2005): 30.

Perhaps for as long as academicians have been conducting research, a challenge has been how to take the harvest from research and apply it in practice. This bridging (or perhaps mapping) of learning theory to practice is still the key for any department or institution that is striving to design or redesign its learning spaces. The first two articles in this issue of EDUCAUSE Review clearly make this point. It is vital to give coherence and consistency to the design of learning spaces by balancing learning theory, faculty and student culture, institutional goals, and resources, all in the face of a rapidly changing digital environment.

The table below is an attempt to map from the Net Generation’s characteristics to learning theory, and then from theory to learning space applications and the technology that might support those applications. Like any other document that points to specific technologies, it has a short shelf life. But the table calls attention to the need to have learning space design informed by a number of factors; and it thus provides a point of departure for campus design teams embarking on the task of facilitating current and future teaching and learning activities. Experience has shown that it is perilous to try to move directly from research to practice. Only when cultural, social, and institutional factors are considered can opportunities and possibilities emerge for the design of learning spaces, formal and informal, that work for both students and faculty.

Net Gen Trait Learning Theory Principles Learning Space Application IT Application
Group activity oriented Collaborative, cooperative, supportive Small-group work spaces IM chat; virtual whiteboards; screen sharing
Goal and achievement oriented Metacognition; formative assessment Access to tutors, consultants, and faculty in the learning space Online formative quizzes; e-portfolios
Multitaskers Active Table space for a variety of tools Wireless
Experimental; trial-and-error learners Multiple learning paths Integrated lab facilities Applications for analysis and research
Heavily reliant on network access Multiple learning resources IT highly integrated into all aspects of learning spaces IT infrastructure that fully supports learning space functions
Pragmatic and inductive Encouraging of discovery Availability of labs, equipment, and access to primary resources Availability of analysis and presentation applications
Ethnically diverse Engagement of preconceptions Accessible facilities Accessible online resources
Visual Environmental factors; importance of culture and group aspects of learners Shared screens (either projector or LCD); availability of printing Image databases; media editing programs
Interactive Compelling and challenging material Workgroup facilitation; access to experts Variety of resources; no "one size fits all"

Adapted from Table 2 in Malcolm Brown, "Learning Spaces," chapter 12 of Educating the Net Generation, ed. Diana G. Oblinger and James L. Oblinger (Boulder, Colo.: EDUCAUSE, 2005), e-book, available at http://www.educause.edu/LearningSpaces/6072.

Malcolm Brown

Malcolm Brown has been Director of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative since 2009 and has initiated major ELI undertakings such as its Seeking Evidence of Impact program. Prior to assuming the ELI directorship, he was the Director of Academic Computing at Dartmouth College, overseeing a team active in instructional technology, research computing, classroom technology, and pedagogical innovation. During his tenure at Dartmouth, he worked actively with the ELI, contributing chapters to the EDUCAUSE eBooks, helping to plan focus sessions, and serving on the ELI Advisory Board. He has been a member of the EDUCAUSE Evolving Technologies committee and is currently on the faculty of the EDUCAUSE Learning Technology Leadership program. He has been on the board for the Horizon Report since its inception in 2004 and served as Chair of Board of the New Media Consortium. He served as the editor of the New Horizons column for the EDUCAUSE Review.

Malcolm holds a pair of BA degrees from UC Santa Cruz; studied in Freiburg, Germany, on a pair of Fulbright scholarships; and has a PhD in German Studies from Stanford University. He has taught several academic courses on Nietzsche and maintains the Nietzsche Chronicle web site. He is a member of the Frye Institute class of 2002. He has given presentations recently at the University of Nebraska; Iowa State University; Deakin University (Australia); Kyoto University (Japan); Duke University; and at the CCUMC, DET/CHE and SUNY Instructional Technology conferences. He hosts the ELI webinar series and has presented on the EDUCAUSE Live! webcast.


Tags from the EDUCAUSE Library

Most Popular

Stay Up-to-Date

RSS Email Twitter

Share Your Work and Ideas

Issues coming up will focus on designing the future of higher ed, digital engagement, and new business models. Share your work and ideas with EDUCAUSE Review Online.

E-mail us >



Annual Conference
September 29–October 2
Register Now!

Events for all Levels and Interests

Whether you're looking for a conference to attend face-to-face to connect with peers, or for an online event for team professional development, see what's upcoming.


Digital Badges
Member recognition effort
Earn yours >

Career Center

Leadership and Management Programs

EDUCAUSE Institute
Project Management



Jump Start Your Career Growth

Explore EDUCAUSE professional development opportunities that match your career aspirations and desired level of time investment through our interactive online guide.


EDUCAUSE organizes its efforts around three IT Focus Areas



Join These Programs If Your Focus Is


Get on the Higher Ed IT Map

Employees of EDUCAUSE member institutions and organizations are invited to create individual profiles.



2014 Strategic Priorities

  • Building the Profession
  • IT as a Game Changer
  • Foundations

Learn More >

Uncommon Thinking for the Common Good™

EDUCAUSE is the foremost community of higher education IT leaders and professionals.