Learning Environments: The Third Teacher?

So… we are all now familiar with the debate on traditional vs. modern learning methods:

Moving from teaching as a  “broadcast” of expert content    to   enhancement of learning via curriculum that makes the learner an active participant (Oblinger, 2006).

Well, considering the latter, it is no surprise that learning spaces (classrooms, informal spaces etc.) have gained a progressively more important role in untilising this modern learning.    My blog this week was inspired by a great short video I found (Trung, 2011) – I have included the link at the end of the blog and I would definitely recommend having a look…

So…  Trung (2011) talks about the physical environment surrounding students, as the ‘third teacher’.  Currently, designs promote “instructor transmission” with students all facing the front in a rigid setting (Oblinger, 2006). Floor plans should be fostering face-to-face contact and sharing of learning resources (Temple, 2007).  Subsequently, powerful learning environments can be created if careful attention is paid to floor plans, furniture and technology  –   For example, in the Fuji Kindergarten (see below), there are no fixed walls between learning spaces. This allows flexible and agile learning to flow through the school.

So, why aren’t we seeing more learning environments like these?  In the 1990s, access to IT was all that was needed but today increasing production of technologies means that ‘access’ isn’t enough anymore   –   the focus has shifted from finding information, to applying it in productive and innovative ways (JISC, 2006).  Learning  spaces need to foster DISCOVERY and INNOVATION; they cannot simply contain them.

Classrooms, lecture theatres and seminar rooms NEED to create excitement about learning  –  an ‘ecology of learning’ (Trung, 2011). For example at Dandenong Senior High School in Australia (see below), classrooms extend outdoors :  to create a physical connection between the learning environment and the real world.

If we allow ‘product experts’ (the students and teachers) to set their learning goals and then create spaces specifically designed to achieve these – we can build powerful learning environments that are agile and flexible –  a technological community can develop in which information is no longer sought   BUT  powerfully implemented by each learner !

The Third Teacher  VIDEO


8 responses

  1. Hi Katie! I can imagine student studying in such environment must have immense joy! Whilst watching the video you linked, I came across one of ideas that “The Third Teacher” (TTT) based on Howard Gardner’s (1993) multiple intelligence theory. The theory stated that there are nine intelligences; I found three of them can be particularly achieved by learning under TTT environment. Since TTT promotes high flexibility of space, students are allowed to “move” and interact and develop inter- and intrapersonal intelligence. It encourages connection between different communities in class, this will help develop naturalistic intelligence, which is the ability to solve problem and generate ideas that are valued in more than one cultures. In the traditional classroom, the role of teacher is only explaining what they know about the topics to students, since they are limited by the environment and setting of class. Ux for good is a third party who evaluates complicated social issue and design specific solution; they also came up with the same ideas as TTT to solve the limitations on teachers. They suggested teacher teaching under such environment (allowing free exchange of information between students and studetns, as well as students and teachers) could go further and not only help students to understand their learning process, but also use the environment as an effective tool to encourage communication and interaction, where breaking the domination of teacher involvement in class.

    Gardner, H. (1993) Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books


  2. Hi Katie!! Another great blog and talk this week. I’ve done a bit of exploring into the concept of learning in an outdoor environment, because I thought what you showed us today was amazing and it’s a shame that apparently we don’t do enough of this kind of stuff over here in the UK.

    To my surprise I’ve found something that I think you’ll find really interesting… Forest Schools – literally school… in a forest! As of 2009, over 100 of these unique schools existed throughout the UK…

    They share similar values to research you have presented re: taking learning outside of a typical indoor classroom & building an association with learning and the real world. More specifically, the Forest school approach to education is all about showing students that learning doesn’t have to be strictly curriculum led. They achieve this by designing learning sessions (covering material up to KS4 level) in which the subject topic to be covered combines both elements from natural environment (i.e. the forest) that can further discussed/theoretically progressed indoors in the classroom e.g. in biology they learn about different species of insects in the classroom, then they’ll go out into the forest for a bug hunt! They also advocate building of team skills & encourage peer communication through playing games like ‘hide & seek’ in the forest – how cool is that?!
    Simply put, education in a Forest school is built around a repeated & consistent interaction with the natural environment (& students in it), allowing students to apply their learning to multiple different contexts outside of the dull, boring classroom; this has been shown to have a significant increase on student confidence, motivation to learn & communication skills (O’Brien, 2009).

  3. Hi guys 🙂 thank you for the comments!

    Jack – that school’s design sounds fantastic! I did actually begin to look into modern designs of learning spaces in the UK and to my dismay I found plenty (I may have jumped-the-gun in saying that there weren’t very many in my speech today).

    I found a very interesting website:

    It houses some spectacular examples of modern learning environments. With regards to learning ‘flowing’ from inside to outside spaces (Le Trung, 2011), Hazelwood School in Glasgow has really taken on board this concept – Many of its walls are transparent and the building’s exterior has an abundance of gardens and small woods. They use this outdoor space in a similar sense to what you were referring to – they use it to create the sense that learning extends beyond the classroom.

    I also mentioned in my speech today the sheer cost of such design projects and how they ,may not be feasible in the UK. I had a look at possible funding routes available and found one name repeated several times – BSF (Building Schools for the Future). This company scheme funds educational projects designed to enhance learning. One of the most impressive funded projects is the Bristol Metropolitan College. It comprises the ‘flexible’ and ‘agile’ factors that Le Trung argues are essential.

  4. I agree that the learning space for a child is very important. However, the idea of having a completely open plan school has not always worked well in practice. Leiringer & Cardellino (2011) compared 4 Scandinavian schools that had recently had new buildings to reflect the change in curriculum. They found that an open plan design caused behavioural issues in some children, and teachers found it hard to concentrate.
    The paper also suggests that there is little effect in changing a school building, if the original is of a good quality, the main effect is found when the original is substandard.
    An interesting point the paper also makes, is that schools are dynamic environments, always changing- the building is obviously not. Care should then be taken in planning to ensure that the learning environment can be altered to meet the changing needs of staff and pupils.
    Leiringer & Cardellino (2011)http://0-www.tandfonline.com.unicat.bangor.ac.uk/doi/pdf/10.1080/01411926.2010.508512

  5. Hi Katie!

    After listening to your talk and hearing about those innovative wheely chairs I wondered what sort of effect furniture has on learning. Parcells, Stommel and Hubbard (1998) discovered that less than 20% of students have a chair and a desk in a class that is acceptable for their body dimensions. They went on to comment that most students were sitting in a chair that was either to high or too deep compared to the desk. Parcells et al state that this type of seating arrangement is a detriment and not conductive to learning. This suggests that to learn you need a comfortable and effective chair and desk combination. It is horrible to try and complete a task if your uncomfortable so why would you try to learn that way? To learn you need a comfy bum 🙂

    Furthermore, Cheong Cheng (2010) found a significant positive correlation between physical and psychological environment with student affective performance. Cheong Cheng commented that the environment a student is in is an important factor in the student’s learning. Additionally factors like teaching standards and care for students were also linked to student’s performance. The learning environment and furniture might be a great factor to aid student learning. However, without great teaching management it might not be fully effective. What is the purpose of having a great environment with a poor teacher. I believe both is required to achieve a great learning environment.

  6. Reblogged this on edulab4 and commented:
    Ένα πολύ ενδιαφέρον άρθρο (με βιβλιογραφικές παραπομπές, για όποιον ενδιαφερθεί) για τους Χώρους Εκπαίδευσης σαν 3ος δάσκαλος.

  7. Thank you for every other informative website. The place
    else may I am getting that type of information written in such a perfect means?
    I’ve a mission that I am just now working on, and I’ve been on the look out for such information.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s