Learning Environments

The journal article was called ‘Learning environments preferred by university students: a shift toward informal and flexible learning environments’.  The paper collected quantitative data from 730 students and qualitative data from 230 students attending a research University in Finland, Autumn 2015. Five main themes emerged around the learning environments preferred by these students: characteristics of the campus; available resources; flexibility of learning opportunity; pedagogy; and implementation of information and communication technology (ICT) in education.

The group discussed the changes that had already taken place at the University of Manchester, for example, the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons, Simon Building refurbishment and business school refurbishment.  Having only been published in 2020, the paper felt dated as physical spaces had been developed to allow active student involvement and more informal learning environments. However, the group expressed the need to continue enhancing spaces on campus, particularly through offering more charging stations for ‘bring your own device’ opportunities to enhance learning.

It was noted that students coming to University straight from School had higher expectations due to being well resourced in their high schools or colleges whereas more mature students required more help and assistance to familiarise themselves with the technology.

The group discussed how we could improve our own learning environments, particularly considering comments from the recent NSS results.  Suggestions included: embedding active student involvement into learning which builds skills to improve their employability; enhancing study spaces within student accommodation/halls of residence; conducting our own survey to understand the views of Manchester students, particularly the diverse range of students and non-traditional students; and repurposing our spaces to enhance flexibility e.g. large lecture theatres that may no longer be required.

The group concluded discussions thinking about the future and the challenges post-COVID. They emphasised the importance of creating online spaces for collaboration using a system that was accessible (captioning for deaf students) and increased student engagement. Also, during the pandemic, staff were more flexible, responding to queries in evenings and at weekends as students accessed learning in different time zones. The group stressed the importance of re-setting rules and boundaries with students for the benefit of staff (and their wellbeing) as well as the students themselves (in preparing them for employment).  One suggestion was to include working hours in e-mail signatures.

The take home messages from the participants of the journal club at the end of the session were as follows:

  • To consider how we optimise interactions and spaces to help the process of learning
  • To consider the diversification of non-traditional student populations who are in need of flexible courses
  • The importance of the physical learning environment to facilitate self-study, collaboration and group work. Investment in more flexible learning spaces is needed on campus as well as in student accommodation
  • Culture and physical environment are important, one size does not fit all
  • Students have a wide variety of expectations from their University studies and environment – whilst we need to provide a flexible approach, we also need to set expectations about what students can expect to receive
  • To investigate some of the study spaces on campus as the pandemic has highlighted that not all students have access to a suitable study environment at home
  • To ensure students know how to use the relevant technology and not assume they will know how to use them or where to find help
  • Learning spaces are critical, both for organised and informal activities, and should be close to other activities (rather than travelling to distant buildings)
  • To focus more on how effective learning was or was not achieved. This may not be what the student wants but it is effective for them
  • To consider how to change the perceived ‘University experience’ of attending lectures to the new 21st century skills instead
  • To understand how learners are learning and exactly what it is about the environment (either digital or physical) that supports or hinders that

Continue the conversation through our Yammer Pedagogy Journal Club.