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The Value of Shared Learning Spaces

Shared Learning Spaces help to remove barriers to education. Really.

Break down barriers to increase flexibility

The intentional design of shared learning spaces is helping evolve school environments. The traditional rectangular classroom limits flexibility with fixed walls. Student mobility encourages curiosity versus the traditional enclosed classrooms. Today, school planners use malleable partitions and transparent surfaces to define areas, providing students with the freedom to navigate breakout areas, engage in large group collaborations, and engage in activities within a supervised environment. These multipurpose shared spaces can transform seamlessly by reconfiguring the walls, to either reduce or expand the room in response to the needs of the lesson plan or classroom management. The increased opportunities help students learn effectively and teachers perform confidently.

School planners understand that large sharable learning spaces can energize both students and educators. Providing a smooth transition from a collaborative lecture to a small-scale breakout area allows students to work in a variety of environments, tuning their space to their needs. Large spaces improve the appearance of efficient school planning.

School District of Brown Deer - Elementary School Flex Space
The flex space offers alternative learning environment

It is important to note that noise isolation, variations in lighting, and reduced visual distractions may be more easily controlled in a smaller learning space. Such small breakout spaces provide new opportunities for testing, independent study, and private instruction. Whether large or small, the versatility of these shared spaces extends far beyond the conventional classroom, serving as multifunctional assets that amplify the educational experience, fostering a dynamic and interactive learning environment for all involved.

Winning a 2021 ASID Silver Award, the Media Center, STEM, Music, and Art areas at Poynette Elementary illustrate one way shared learning spaces impact student life. In this case, these spaces are arrayed around a unique flexible area that provides space for each class to break out of it’s normal room and borrow space in the central shared area for special curriculum and events. These adjacencies also allow quick access to resources in the media center during class time. Shared space, like this, can also positively impact student socialization with a variety of seating areas available during or following programmed learning and recreational events. In the award-winning Wisconsin Dells High School, the library and cafeteria are adjacent and connected through the student commons which also hosts a “learning staircase.” The Commons and learning staircase support many formal gatherings throughout the year. This setting provides a dynamic structure, allowing students to easily find new work areas or embrace the social atmosphere of the school commons, and allows educators to augment programs occurring in adjacent media center and cafeteria spaces.


Poynette School District - Elementary School Breakout and Flex Space_2
Multipurpose flex space is located adjacent to the Media Center and Art room at the Poynette Elementary School.
Wisconsin Dells High School
Multiple activities occur on the learning stair at the Wisconsin Dells High School.

School learnig spaces are evolving with dynamic shared spaces and breaking down the outdated barriers of the classroom to enable modern learning. These shared learning spaces promote collaboration, creativity, and adaptability to shape the future of education.

About the Author:

Steven Kieckhafer, Partner

Steve Kieckhafer, education partner and director of the PRA Madison Design Office

Steven is a Partner at PRA. Steve is an experienced education architect, helping communities to improve student outcomes through the sensible design of learning spaces. He is a frequent speaker at education conferences, delivering upon his desire to contribute to better environments for all students. Steve also oversees all work completed in our PRA Madison Design Office.