The impact of the physical learning environment on education

The physical learning environment has a major influence on teaching and learning. That starts at the fundamental level, with the basic characteristics of the space, such as sufficient light and air to facilitate learning. But it also goes beyond that; the layout of the space must also have an educational impact.

For example: the Utrecht Teaching model places a high emphasis on activating teaching. Research has shown that the results of education provided in an Active Learning Classroom are better than the results of education in a traditional classroom, even with the same (activating) course design (Brooks, 2011). The mechanism behind this is that the layout of the space influences the behaviour of students and instructors (Brooks 2012). In the Active Learning Classroom, the instructor ‘sends’ less, students ask more questions and there is more discussion. This is in line with the activating teaching principle, and it benefits the learning process.

Although the Utrecht Teaching Model allocates a central role to activating teaching, much of the curriculum is still largely based on instruction provided by the instructor. This is only to be expected, as many of the university’s teaching spaces place the instructor in a central position. This in turn leads the instructor to display the behaviour that the layout of the space expects of them, even though we know that interaction with fellow students, the lesson materials and the instructor are vital for the learning process.

In order to fully express Utrecht’s vision of education, we must develop a physical learning environment that is in line with that vision and reinforces it.