Designing virtual learning spaces for the future
By George Kenyon of kaep
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced educational institutions of all kinds to experiment with remote teaching. There are many indicators that this crisis is going to transform many aspects of life and education is expected to also transform beyond what we have become used to in the 20th century.
Personalised education fuels the need to create learning spaces which account for a wide range of approaches to teaching and learning. The virtual learning space promotes independent learning and collaborative learning through the use of innovative collaborative learning zones that promote and inspire group work/discussion, reflection and self-development, whilst the student-centred zones encourage spatial fluidity like no physical classroom can achieve.
VR learning spaces in general have the potential to positively impact society by encouraging life-long learning, attenuating learning barriers, and reducing costs of attaining educational goals. VR learning spaces are after all a fraction of the cost of physical learning spaces and their construction can even defy the laws of physics. VR learning spaces are also more accessible to physically disabled students, allowing them to take part in virtual physical activities that they would otherwise be unable to do in the physical world.
Drawing on the best practice research for instructional methods, such as collaborative, problem-based, and team-based learning strategies, the virtual learning space has been designed to include: A workshop style arena, which incorporates a visual multi-choice, Yes/No and Linkert scale assessment tool; open plan layout to enable seamless transition between activities; circular group-work spaces to support collaboration; areas for 2D multiple screen displays and 3D model presentation; podstyle areas for small-group collaboration; a lecture theatre for didactic instruction and plenty of outdoor social learning spaces for reflection and mindfulness activities.
The virtual learning space promotes independent learning and collaborative learning through the use of innovative collaborative learning zones that promote and inspire group work/discussion, reflection and self-development, whilst the student-centred zones encourage spatial fluidity like no physical classroom can achieve. Mood sensitive surface colours and textural variety incorporated into the space, further enhance learning by reducing distracting stimuli and helping students to focus. The beautifully designed spaces help students to feel good and happy to learn. The open outdoor spaces serve as a community gathering spot and further promote group discussion.
The virtual learning space has been designed specifically with curves rather than edges, which allows for students to work in horse-shoe/circular areas thus encouraging students to work collaboratively and further promoting group discussion and decision-making.
Several ‘story-spaces’/communal seating areas with soft fabrics and warm colours have also been incorporated into the design to allow for class gatherings, announcements, reading, and additional breakout spaces for large-group discussions. These larger social spaces allow learners to meet and mingle – this fosters social interaction between students. Learning becomes an activity which takes place between students of different ages by way of chance meeting, thus further promoting a “social pedagogy”.
Research has indicated that such an out-of-school VR learning experience can have an impact on both the personal and academic development of the student. Findings have shown the potential for transfer of learning outcomes to the school setting, with students showing evidence of improved skills in communication and collaboration and increased levels of confidence.
Learning spaces of the future, especially virtual learning spaces, should incorporate opportunities to promote learner-centred pedagogies such as contextual teaching (Granello, 2000), constructivist pedagogy (Nelson & Neufeldt, 1998), experiential teaching approaches (Grant, 2006), and transparent instructional pedagogy (Dollarhide, Smith, & Lemberger, 2007).
Educators who use a learner-centred model view learning as nonlinear, multidimensional and a phenomenon that occurs relationally within a social context (Cornelius-White, 2007). The use of learner-centred pedagogy favours a democratic approach to teaching that shifts the instructor from the centre of the learning environment to a more peripheral position. This shift is achieved by increasing students’ opportunities to actively participate in the classroom and engage in self-directed learning outside the classroom, as well as providing forums through which they can share learned information with peers (Wright, 2011). Educators who use learner-centred pedagogy favour differentiated modalities to facilitate learning, in contrast to instructors who use teacher-centred models of teaching that rely on lecture as the primary means of instruction.