the design of educational spaces

It seems to be common sense, yet the idea that the design of the places in which we learn will influence our learning seems to get short shrift. I have been reflecting on this after reading about the work of kurani. In particular the need to transform aging buildings and non dedicated spaces into effective adult learning environments is huge. Physical design decisions are often left to those with no knowledge of the educational process. Designs of classrooms and other workspaces often defaults to one of a few standard set ups without considering other possibilities. It is time that we took the design of physical learning spaces more seriously.

My Search for a Passion

I spent many years trying to find my passion. Popular psychology today, not to mention career development dogma, tell us that we all have one true passion and we must pursue it at the risk of letting our lives wither into meaninglessness (just ask a TED talk). I would worriedly question the lack of a true passionate interest in my life – no one topic absorbs me completely. Then I would consider the possibility that I have a multitude of passions which seemed less dire but hardly helpful in terms of planning the ultimate in fulfilling careers. For a while, I settled on proclaiming that I had a passion for cheese, a phrase borrowed covertly from a cookbook in my possession. But when my brief foray into cheese making failed miserably I had to admit that my commitment to always having Parmigiano Reggiano on hand did not constitute a life’s mission.

Eventually it dawned on me, despite all of the issues with the follow your passion rhetoric*, I had found mine. Learning is my passion. It is not a particular topic or area of study. It is a not a family of food no matter how creamy and delicious. I am committed wholeheartedly to the experience of learning. When I learn, I immerse myself in an idea or a concept. Whether it be through books, documentaries, travel or through listening to CBC, I am happiest when learning something new.

I am at a point in my life where I am pursuing this passion in myriad ways. I am about to undertake study in a Masters in Adult Education program designed to probe the questions of how we learn, what learning can accomplish and how we can encourage learning throughout the life span. In preparation for this, I have already immersed myself in relevant scholarship and am again at home in the confluence of academic fields that made my study of English Literature so appealing – sociology, theology, history, linguistics, psychology, women’s studies, anthropology and education. I am again in a place where I am asking myself the big absurd questions – am I a postmodernist? If I claim to be a postmodernist then am I, by default, not a postmodernist? – and some of the big not so absurd ones – If today’s most promising learning innovations, like an increasingly large portion of education itself, spring from an increasingly corporate landscape, can these innovations successfully achieve the often radical and populist goals of learning?

I ask the not so absurd questions at a time when they are of more than theoretical interest to me. I am on the precipice of my children’s years of formal education, an uncomfortable place to be for one with such an unbridled love of learning and so much concern about the way that our current educational practices undermine such love.  I have set out on an adventure of learning with my children in an informal way, ripe with possibilities and excitement, unsure how this will translate as they reach the magical age of five.

It is from these places and perspectives that I set out to create this blog. I hope that my musings on learning itself and the various topics that catch my interest along the way bring you new insights and joy.

*For an interesting critique of the “do what you love” concept see