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Accelerating Learning Through Innovative Space

Douglas Huntley, Ed.D.
Retired Superintendent & Educational Specialist

Dr. Douglas Huntley, a retired superintendent and advocate for 21st century learning and design, explores a few space types and the features that contribute to the advancement of student learning. 

Stimulating and energizing young minds is a goal of most educational leaders. CSArch shares that goal and helps clients achieve it through transformative design work that drives student success in a rapidly changing, interconnected world. Children and young adults thrive in creative learning spaces, and it is increasingly clear that the changing landscape of instructional space influences learning today more than ever. How do the innovative learning spaces of today contribute to the acceleration of learning? 

The 21st Century Classroom

Space is an active aspect of learning in the 21st century classroom. Such classrooms are dynamic and exciting because they are designed to adapt to the learner. In fact, they might better be characterized as an active learning lab. 

The flexible design of these classroom spaces supports individual study, one-on-one interaction, or small group learning as desired by the facilitator. Moveable, comfortable, and scalable furniture supports the necessary pedagogy to address the unique social, emotional, and educational needs of each student. The open space concept promotes collaboration, cooperation, socialization, communication, and enrichment for all students.

In addition to small group work, students will experience differentiated instruction, cross-curricular learning, station rotation, and project-based learning among other student-centered methodologies. The open classroom design and flexible furniture allows for a seamless transition between instruction types.

Additionally, learning is facilitated with the latest infrastructure for air exchange, adaptable and natural lighting, appropriate amounts of glazing, sound control, safety, and technology.

Extended Learning Space

While common in colleges and universities, the extended learning space is new to K-12 schools. These spaces are an extension of the traditional classroom setting strategically located throughout a school to facilitate small group learning opportunities. Also known as breakout rooms, their presence outside the walls of a classroom literally allows students to think outside the box.

In an extended learning space, pairs or small groups of students create, design, discuss, plan, collaborate and imagine beyond the classroom. Students think deeply and learn in a more independent atmosphere. Furniture in the space is flexible and moveable, fostering collaboration and enhanced communication. Agency and autonomy drive the learning, and interdisciplinary study is supported by the nature of the design.

The Art Studio

Art studios are designed to incorporate two or more art disciplines in a larger, open, and dynamic space that is dramatically different from a traditional art classroom. High ceilings, natural lighting, and corridor wall glazing all contribute to a sense of openness and create an active, inviting community.

Studios provide space, materials, and storage for both 2D and 3D art. Graphic design and photography utilize an open lab setting – typically located adjacent to the studio – where students explore different avenues of visual communication, self-expression, and creative problem solving.

Artist isolation is a thing of the past. Studios are designed for students and teachers to actively collaborate across art disciplines within the same space. Students from one class have immediate access to materials and technology throughout the department, which provides increased opportunities for exploration, creativity, and innovation. 

Innovation Space

Innovation spaces allow students to create, invent, produce, write, program, engineer, build, and tinker. An open floor plan and integrated classroom design allows students to flow freely throughout different workspaces and engage with various technology from design through fabrication.

Students enter the innovation space with ideas, and through a build-based process, turn their ideas into products. That process includes researching possible solutions, collaborating with peers and experts, and then developing a prototype or product. In the innovation space, students have access to numerous design software, 3D printers, and other advanced technology.

The innovation space facilitates learning and collaboration, making it an ideal space for programs such as Project Lead the Way, Vex/Lego/First Robotics, and other pre-engineering, technical, and manufacturing courses.

An extension of the innovation space, student helpdesks are beneficial in providing a real, practical application for technology-based learning. Helpdesks can be housed within an innovation space and allow students to troubleshoot and repair technology for peers or teachers.


Once just a passageway used between classes, corridors are increasingly seen as design opportunities for independent learning, paired collaboration, or even small group activities. Unobtrusive, built-in corridor seating allow teachers to use corridors for so much more than simply moving students from class to class. Architects are finding new ways to bring learning outside of the classroom through corridor design.

These are a few examples of ways school districts can approach design to encourage innovation, creativity, student agency, and collaboration. Learning is not static and can happen anywhere and in any form, as seen over the past year. Purposeful, impactful design does not have to be complex or costly, but well-designed space matters to meet the needs of all learners today and in the future.