ELI Seminar on Planning Informal Learning Spaces

ELI Web Seminar, March 12, 2007

Planning the Informal Learning Landscape 

Shirley Dugdale
Director, Learning Environments
DEGW North America LLC and

Phillip D. Long
Associate Director, Office of Educational Innovation and Technology

  • What’s the informal learning landscape? “Spaces between”
  • Relationship between physical and virtual places (both enrich each other)
  • Drivers: mobile technology, convergent devices, demand for study space, recognition of importance of quality of space,
  • active learning, need for interdisciplinary interaction, learning tools and support systems. Iterative process.
  • Blended learning more prevalent–more collaboration, active, interdisicplinary; immersive, hybrid (F2F, virtual, augmented reality)
  • Traditional categories much less important; space types driven by patterns of interaction; focuse don quality of life more than on formal learning of experiences.
  • Planning for continuum of spaces (specialized, generic and informal); even this is revolutionary rather than “seats and butts in seats”

Discussion of millenial learning (multitasking, group and device focused, multiple resources and multimedia savvy content producers, just-in-time)

Cool network usage visualization at MIT (http://ispots.mit.edu/)

Interesting idea: Had students in one class complete time diary (where you were and what were you doing). Students in a class spent most of their time working on classes after 5 (and after 11 PM towards end of class). Shows need for use of space during times when typically closed.

iLabs (http://icampus.mit.edu/ilabs/): internet access to physical experiments (not simulations), as part of iCampus (http://icampus.mit.edu/)

Need for:

  • Collaborative tools (sync, async and VOIP)
  • Spaces that can morph over time (multiscreens for seminars that turn into gaming screens at night–showed Wallenberg Hall)
  • Easy videoconferencing
  • Presence walls (virtual presence in physical space)–not here yet but soon (see Swiss House–physical social environments designed to bring people together virtually from around the world–interesting in terms of diaspora)
  • Location maps to determine where to implement technology (tracking wireless IPs with permission to see where users are going)
  • Augmented reality (handhelds for educational gaming–mentioned that pollution game again)


  • How to advocate for investment in physical spaces? Do motion tracking studies of IPs. Says rough average 6-10% is classroom space; the rest non-formal learnign space. Journalling–asked stakeholders “Where did you do most of your academic work?”
  • Program vs. non-program space–increasing recognition that informal space needs to be programmed
  • Distance learning service–dependent on physical comfort [and networking–ed. note]

Implications for space learning

How to support mobility and design?

  • Must have power!
  • Movability of furniture
  • Quality of environment
  • Where can you exploit transitional spaces between class times?
  • Places of serindipitous encounters
  • Places that aren’t all for one thing but spaces for certain kinds of activities (video in some areas, social activities in some areas)

Other implications:

  • Encourage “front porch” spaces, spillover spaces outside of classrooms designed for informal interaction, transition from public to private
  • Exploit crossroads areas (high traffic, seating, cafes)–Swarthmore College Science Lounge
  • Blended spaces where you can “eat, work, talk, relax” . . .”supporting multiple activities
  • Food is important–quality, attractor, engagement (people could IM to message board in cafe-MIT Steam Cafe)
  • “Club-like” spaces-bookable, lots of support and services right there, choice of individual vs. group, collaboration support

Inspiration spaces/examples

  • Cox at Emory inspired by retail design (coffee area, cushioned seating); “large screen for shared use”–interactive smart whiteboard-just seating around it; carrels with large screens for single users(also at nothwestern information commons)
  • U. of Chicago-banquette seating with a screen people can gather around
  • Lots more need for media co-creation facilities–small rooms for editing, podcasting; presentation practice requires thought about acoustics
  • Allow students to create their own spaces (Swarthmore Computer Club)

Note: Protect quiet space and must zone for quiet areas and noise and activity


  • Issues of technology support esp. during late hours–expectations will be “amazingly high”, just in time thinking carries over. But teach students and support peer-to-peer learning; encourage”viral propagation” of learning. Also be very thoughtful how you present resources and material to students–where you put handouts, resources; how do you contact people for help or leave messages. possible consortial help for 24 hr service.
  • Theft & security–put flat panels in secure mounts, etc.; but value of things is changing so theft slightly less likely

Strategies for the future

  • Balance between informal and formal space
  • Leverage operational and physical possibilities (less space for stacks so more for collaborative areas; work with ed tech and students services; explore integrated staffing)
  • Is collaborative space is diffuse or centralized? Stanford School of Medicine Learning and Knowledge Center (Expert bars)
  • Places built to support multiple kinds of learning
  • Hybrid courses will change space planning
  • Link assessment to space performance
  • Learning moves beyond the campus to the city (blended spaces); beyond physical to virtual and vice versa
  • Virtual worlds coming


  • Not just to be comfortable but support for social and active learning
  • “Return to human centered design”
  • Support for their own devices rather than “hermetically sealed box with soup to nuts)
  • Incubators and temporary experiments