Are flexible learning environments educative?

Year: 2019

Author: Benade, Leon

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Recently, Biesta (2019) has argued that discussions concerning the creation of innovative spaces for learning are misguided, not only because the language of ‘learning’ is vague and unspecified but is disconnected from education. Biesta outlines education’s purposes as being for qualification, for socialisation, and for subjectification. These three purposes are inseparable, but also central to considerations of education. Loose talk about ‘learning’ overlooks these nuances, or focuses on one of these purposes at the expense of the other two. Biesta is especially concerned with his notion of ‘subjectification’, and, following a Levinasian orientation, sees this process as one of coming into dialogue with the world, especially ‘the other’. The struggle to balance self-centred desires against living well with the planet and its inhabitants is a real one, ironically, a lifelong mission.

Biesta urges architectural designers to proceed beyond ‘learning’ to embrace the three purposes of education he outlines, but particularly ‘subjectification’. So instead of ‘creating spaces’ for learning, designers should be concerned with ‘making room for education’. Designers of these innovative, flexible learning environments for their part, have their own conceptualisations, or what Lefebvre (1991) calls, ‘representations of space’. What conceptualisations do these designers have of learning, pedagogy and education more generally? Designers also have expectations of how space will be used, or, more directly, how it ought to be used. This relates to Lefebvre’s notion of spatial practice, and understanding this aspect of space requires decoding its ideology, thus include ‘official’ views on how space is to be utilised. It is, however, in the symbolic dimension, what Lefebvre terms ‘representational space’, where boundaries are more permeable, and users ‘re-purpose’ spaces, where the ‘learning’ of the kind Biesta has in mind is more likely to occur. This is the space of lived experience.

In this presentation, I will take up some of the theoretical and philosophical insights offered by Biesta, and Lefebvre, to critically examine the key assumptions and conceptualisations articulated by designers of state-of-the-art, open and flexible learning school environments.


Biesta, G. (2019). Creating spaces for learning or making room for education? New parameters for the architecture of education. In H.M. Tse, H. Daniels, A. Stables and S. Cox (Eds). Designing buildings for the future of schooling: Contemporary visions for education,(pp. 27-40). London, United Kingdom/New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space.(D. Nicholson-Smith, trans.). Malden, MA: Blackwell.