School Design: Learning environments and learning cultures.  A study investigating the relationship between school design, the learning environment and learning communities in new schools

Year: 2012

Author: Bertram, Kate

Type of paper: Abstract refereed



A substantial body of literature describes the aesthetic and visual impact of architecture in contemporary schools, the processes by which architects apply personal and professional knowledge to the design of educational facilities and the ways in which educators use buildings to deliver curriculum. This study addressed a gap in the school design research by investigating the relationship between school design, the learning environment and learning communities in new schools. The study explored the way in which the design of physical space and the creation of a learning culture is negotiated, factors that influence the design of schools and the intricacies of how educational facilities influence learning cultures.


I used a multiple case study approach with three K-12 schools from the New South Wales non-government sector. Data was collected through a number of methods, including surveys, interviews, photographs and observations. The data was systematically analysed using a constant comparative method.


The findings of the study were compared to the current literature on learning communities, leading to a framework for articulating the relationship between the built environment and learning community cultures. The study also indentified the importance of school context when designing its learning environment and key influences on learning environments, especially the impact of constraints, masterplanning and affordability. The perspectives of each of the stakeholder groups (teachers, students, college managers and educational leaders) of the learning spaces varied according to the role the spaces played in individuals' daily work lives. Through cross-case comparison, the study identified a number of factors that contributed to building effective learning environments. These factors were: information technology resources; space; flexibility; control and physical comfort. The research also highlighted the centrality of the role played by the school principal in the design process.


There are a number of recommendations that can be made as a result of this study. The most obvious being the need for increased teacher training and professional development programmes in the area of using space as part of a pedagogy and the development of policies relating to the establishment of new school that take into account an individual school's context when designing the learning environment.