The Value of Informal Learning Environments

by David Jakes, Founder and Lead Designer, David Jakes Designs LLC

As schools continue to look to improve their learning spaces, it is essential they consider how informal learning spaces support teaching and learning. The design of such spaces, or their redesign, provides a unique opportunity to rethink the role informal space plays in the education of students. When considered together with formal locations for learning such as classrooms, these spaces can become part of a comprehensive approach that addresses how space serves teaching and learning.

Informal learning environments are spaces that are used on-demand, where the use is driven by learner choice and where ownership of the space is shared by all. These spaces can be hallway or library areas, or other common spaces not regularly scheduled by the school for some type of activity. Typically, they are near or adjacent to classrooms and can add value to their formal counterparts when designed appropriately.

The belief any space can be a learning space underscores the need for understanding the role these spaces can play in teaching and learning.

Four considerations for ensuring informal spaces of your school serve teachers and students in the most effective ways possible.

Informal spaces can inspire students. Creating spaces that are inviting and comfortable, that ALL have equitable access to, and also inspire students to do their very best will be spaces students want to be in. TIP: Have students help with the design of these spaces. Doing so will honor their voice, encourage ownership of the spaces, and increase student engagement.

Informal spaces promote a variety of human interactions. Informal spaces can support the interactions between people necessary to build a learning community. These spaces enable people to engage each other in ways of their choosing, which can increase the number, frequency, and diversity of interpersonal interactions. These interactions can lead to the relationships essential for building a community based on belonging.

Informal spaces support different learning needs. Informal spaces can be multidimensional. They are capable of supporting respite, rejuvenation, reflection, and focus, all critical behaviors that are necessary for negotiating today’s complex learning environments. At the same time, informal spaces can support individual work, collaboration, and can support other unique uses such as student presentations and showcasing student accomplishment.

Fōmcore’s XL Train Station Set and Curved Linear Series are just a couple of perfect additions to help facilitate informal learning.

Informal spaces should be strategically designed. Use a strategic design process to create these spaces to realize their potential. Choose furniture that supports flexibility and agility and through your policies, grant agency to students to be able to repurpose the spaces as needed. Use other elements such as mobile whiteboards and technology such as display screens to add creative capacity. To assist with design efforts, enlist Fōmcore's professional designers to help you create compelling informal spaces.

Fōmcore is available to help with any space planning needs.

Recognizing, valuing, and creating effective informal spaces can add new dimensions to the teaching and learning experience of a school. It is possible to design these spaces to provide choice, increase engagement, and support the interactions necessary for learning and for developing a sense of belonging. Realizing both will greatly contribute to a learning community and school culture that helps students thrive and develop the ability to be successful life-long learners.

David Jakes’ career as an educational designer has been influenced by the variety of roles and positions that he has held over 35 years. As a classroom science teacher, David developed a deep understanding of teaching and learning that has served as a foundation for his entire professional life. Read more about David Jakes here.