Finding the ideal learning conditions

Finding the ideal learning conditions

25 Jan 2011

A research team headed by La Trobe University academics has found that university students are most engaged while learning in environments which they can customise to suit their own needs. 

Students in the libraryThe ‘Spaces for Knowledge Generation’ (SKG) project is a collaborative effort between academics at La Trobe University and Charles Sturt University and industry partners Kneeler Design and Apple Corporation. Funded by a $220,000 Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) grant, the project  looked at how technological, economic and social developments have influenced the types of learning spaces that students prefer.

According to the project’s leader, Associate Professor Kay Souter of La Trobe University, the modern university student benefits from environments where ‘active learning’ is possible

‘Research indicates that learning is much more effective when the learner openly shapes and constructs their experience’, she says. ‘This is opposed to a passive model where the learner's job is thought to consist mainly of listening.’

According to Dr Souter, several ingredients are required in order to facilitate this so-called ‘active learning’.

‘Learning spaces which invite students to take charge of the layout of their working environment,  are comfortable, attractive and have technology readily available, help to produce an engaged community of learners’, she says.. ‘At the simplest level, an environment which welcomes and encourages active user input also encourages active learning and knowledge generation.’

Dr Souter believes that the key to introducing effective learning spaces is providing a way for students to align their university life with other daily experiences.

‘Students are typically enmeshed in a work/home/study continuum and move in nomadic but purposeful ways across a learning landscape of which the university is only a part’, she says. ‘The problem for universities is to replicate and indeed advance these open and flexible communities on campus.’

As part of the SKG project, several rooms at La Trobe’s Melbourne (Bundoora) campus were refurbished in accordance with the group’s findings. One of the rooms, the Collaborative Teaching & Learning Room in the Martin Building, features break-out spaces for small groups, two mobile collaborative workstations (MoCoWs) to facilitate collaborative teamwork and tables on wheels that allow the room to be arranged in a variety of ways.

According to Dr Souter, the recent $9 million refurbishment of the Borchardt Library at La Trobe’s Melbourne (Bundoora) campus has incorporated the principles of ‘active learning’ into the design and spatial layout.
‘The library redevelopment spaces use many of the SKG insights – the reconfigurable spaces and furniture, the cafe project, the writable wall surfaces and the WiFi were all discussed in the Learning Spaces forums’, she said.

The Spaces for Knowledge Generation project evolved from intense academic interest in redesigning learning environments, a push for innovative teaching methods at a university level and the ALTC’s interest in the effects that learning environments have on student engagement.

For more information about the Spaces for Knowledge Generation project, visit the group’s website at or contact;

Associate Professor Kay Souter
Associate Dean (Academic), Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences
La Trobe University
P: (03) 9479 1423

For media inquiries contact;

Mark Pearce
Director, Media & Communications Unit
La Trobe University
P: (03) 9479 5246




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