Where do you learn? When do you learn? How do you learn?

Many people, I fear, still believe that learning is something that happens at school between the hours of 9am and 3pm (and variants thereof) or at least that’s when real learning happens. The kind of learning that can be planned and prepared either methodically over long periods of time or the Sunday night scramble for something to do with Year 9 in first lesson tomorrow!! … The kind of learning that is well documented and easily identified by line managers and executives and boards and administrators. The kind of learning that has existed since modern schooling began – the teacher teaching, the students learning, work being done, marks being given.

Of course, as any parent will quickly tell you, learning didn’t actually begin when little Jimmy rocked up to Kindergarten at age 5. He wasn’t a blank canvas that Miss Potter began to paint on with storytelling and music and other wonderful things happening in her classroom that year. He wasn’t either an automaton who performed tasks simply because they were there and remained unchanged or unaffected. Before Jimmy entered those school gates he was a learner. After he left each day he remained one. His mind didn’t close up at the end of the day like nyctinastic flowers. [nyctinasty has to be one of the coolest words I’ve seen this week]

So jump Tardis-like to when Jim is a teenager and he has been learning for many years now and will continue to learn afterwards. But it’s not only the dimension of time along which Jim’s mind surfs but also the dimension of space.

He learnt how to hit a golf ball just right for his size and swing from his father one weekend when he was 12. He learnt about what it was like in the Vietnam War from his grandfather, a veteran. He learnt about womens’ rights from his older sister’s Feminist Theory course when she was in her 2nd year of an Arts degree.

He was only physically in one of those three spaces when he learnt about the concept, issue or skill. And yet Vietnam was brought to him through the timbre of his grandfather’s voice and feminism brought into his dining room from a lecture he never attended.

So, if we can accept the reality that we learn outside of the school grounds and we learn at times not able to be documented by a school or other formal place of learning, what challenge does that set to our notion of school?

How can we design schools to be a learning Tardis, where each and every aspect of the buildings and the people and the experience are tailored to optimise and maximise learning? Some changes can be made with little cash or effort but have significant gains. Others may require years of planning and fundraising. Either way, I believe our schools need to shift away from being places where the lights go out at 3pm to the hub of learning which boots a learner’s ability to grow, regardless of where, or when, they are learning.

Watch Stephen Heppell’s presentation on Total Learning at the 2013 Creative Innovation conference in Melbourne, Australia. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2014/03/14/3963045.htm

Or a short clip of Simon Breakspear talking on innovative learning environments

Matt is beginning his research into the design of learning spaces as part of the Master of Research program at Macquarie University, with a particular focus on the role and place of technology in that process. And is it odd that he is writing in third person on his own blog?…