My good friend Julia Atkin, an education and learning consultant, makes a big thing of saying that the way that humans learn is the same as it has always been.
“Whether a human learns depends on their motivation,” she says. “A great teacher will find ways of motivating students and what motivates one student is not necessarily the same thing that motivates another.”
So, with a group of say 30 students you cannot rely on giving the same learning exercise in the expectation that the result will be the same, you have to understand what motivates each student and try to find ways of using that understanding to get students engaged. This may mean that you get students with ‘complementary motivational drivers’ to work together on an exercise, be it in pairs or larger groupings. Intuitively for teachers this is not rocket science, but somehow on the face of it, this has been lost in many schools around the world.
So, what though is the connection with the physical learning environment? Well, simply providing the right kinds of spaces to enable teachers to teach using different techniques. A generic box of itself does not facilitate this – there has to be more. Perhaps it is a variety of spaces (as Mie Guldbaek Broens suggested to me) that can be used in different ways, or furniture that can easily and quickly be reconfigured. A data rich environment that gives access to information.
What provides the motivation? A lot of things might impact on that. Place could be one of them, but in the end good teaching leadership I think is crucial.
Julia has another phrase I like: “Take working with someone else,” she says. “In life it’s called collaboration, at school it’s called cheating!”