Quick guide

Designing spaces around learning

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An outline of the general holistic considerations required for a coordinated organisational approach.

The issue

An evolving vision of what makes an engaging learning experience, and changing expectations and circumstances, requires physical and virtual learning spaces to embrace and support those changes.

Understand the learning modes and spaces

Physical and virtual learning spaces must effectively support engaging learning experiences. Before you start designing these spaces, it is essential that you have a clear vision of the learning experiences you wish to create within them.

With the increased use of virtual environments, they have come as much a face of the organisation as the main reception lobby, learning areas and library. It is therefore important to give their design the same care and consideration as the physical estate, providing safe places to study, interact and engage just as would be done for on-campus spaces. Find out more about this aspect of learning spaces in our VLE review report 2020, and how we can help through our VLE review service.

These considerations combined with our digital pedagogy toolkit can help to establish your vision for inspirational learning experiences. This, in turn, will dictate the requirements around which you can then design supporting environments.

On-campus learning spaces

Lecture theatres, class-rooms, and practical activity areas still have a place in meeting specific formal learning delivery. Shared spaces, such as group study spaces or open plan spaces used by multiple departments are perfect for collaborative working. In all these environments, protecting people’s physical and mental wellbeing while on campus must be an overarching consideration. This is covered specifically below.

Distance/online learning spaces

With more emphasis on online learning, how can institutions balance the varying needs for physical space on different programmes of study? How can we ensure that learners have an equitable learning experience? What plans are in place to support learners who don’t have suitable learning spaces at home, or can only access materials on their phones?

Hybrid learning spaces

Teaching some students in person whilst others attend remotely presents a number of challenges for teaching staff. Although this can provide students with a degree of choice in how they experience their learning, it also raises questions about parity and quality of experience.

Read our tips and experiences from other universities and colleges on how they're implementing effective hybrid learning. This will help you create a positive student experience for students studying both remotely and in person.

Learning (resource) centres and libraries

Digital library resources and support can also greatly improve the student experience in a hybrid model. Visit our blog to read about how you can tap into library and digital resource expertise to help learners on their course.

Map your learning experiences to your learning spaces

Remember, you are not designing spaces for learning to take place in, you are designing spaces around the learning experiences you wish to enable.

Take a holistic approach as an organisation

Designing, adapting and combining learning spaces requires their holistic consideration against a set of outcomes for all students, regardless of their mode of attendance. 

This will require collaboration between academic staff, student and professional support staff, and this will in turn require senior level coordination. 

Assess and understand the scenarios

Consider the broad types of learning that could take place in the spaces you are designing.

These four scenarios were used to help inspire exploratory discussion at leadership level as part of the learning and teaching reimagined project, and are a good baseline.


As mentioned above, the wellbeing of students and staff is a primary consideration in learning space design. An important part of that is promoting a sense of belonging. You can read more about helping learners/students feel a part of a community, part of our inductions guide.

Use our checklist

We’ve compiled a set of checklists for the different functional areas within your organisation:

  • Leadership and policy
  • Teaching, learning and assessment
  • Equality of access and resources
  • Staff development
  • Infrastructure and enterprise systems

Download the learning spaces checklists (.xlsx)

For each functional area there is a suggested starting set of criteria that you can use to assess your adequacy of virtual and physical learning space provision. These sets can be customised and added to, in particular to embrace your organisational vision for teaching and learning, allowing you to adapt the checklist to your specific requirements. 

By bringing all the functional area considerations together, the whole organisation's focus can be directed towards the learning experience, regardless of changing attendance modes and learning space requirements.

This guide is made available under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND).