Background

In recent years Australia has witnessed significant federal and state government investment in schooling infrastructure. This stands at more than $25B since 2010, with a further $7B projected to be spent annually on new schools into the next decade. The majority of these builds will be of the genre loosely termed ‘innovative learning environments’, or ILEs. ILEs can be somewhat simplistically characterised as having highly flexible spaces, innovative furniture, and ubiquitous ICT. They facilitate, it is argued, learning that is collaborative and creative, and develops critical-thinking, highly communicative learners. As the Melbourne Declaration espoused, these are the skills being demanded of 21st century graduates entering our knowledge economy.

Given the supposed failure of 1970s open school programs that were driven by similar ideals of space facilitating differentiated learning, it is surprising that this massive investment comes with little commensurate research into the impact of these learning environments. The cross-disciplinary (MGSE/ABP/MDHS) Learning Environments Applied Research Network is one exception. Since 2009 LEaRN has won over $5M in ARC LPs, consultancies, and bespoke projects with schools on this topic. LEaRN began with a design focus, but in recent years has developed an additional speciality in both the evaluation of educational aspects of these spaces, and in exploring the complex intersection of space and pedagogy.