What we know: Positive learning environments: Physical learning environments affect how students learn

The ‘What we know’ theories are going to be published here as a series of blog posts over the coming weeks but are also available now collected as a free eBook from the OCSLD shop, where there are now four titles available. Our new book, Assessment Literacy: The Foundation for Improving Student Learning is available in paperback and kindle formats

Physical learning environments affect how students learn

What do we know?

We know that a bad physical environment – e.g. cold, hot and stuffy, cramped, poor acoustics – will have a negative effect on student learning.  But in the past decade there has also been a growing realisation that as learning approaches have been changing – e.g. use of media and technology, mixed-mode courses, blended learning, increased group-working – there is a requirement for the physical environment to also change.


Implications for improving student learning

The need for increasingly flexible learning spaces, ever-greater access to technology and especially web connectivity, and the need for social-learning spaces are probably the three main strands regarding the changes that are needed.

Further reading

JISC (2006) Designing Spaces for Effective Learning: A guide to 21st century learning space design, HEFCE, available at: www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/JISClearningspaces.pdf


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About the author

Chris Rust

Chris is Professor of Higher Education and Associate Dean (Academic Policy) at Oxford Brookes University for two days a week, managing a number of cross-university projects. Chris joined Oxford Brookes in 1989 and was head of OCSLD for ten years until taking flexible retirement in September 2011. For six years he was Course Leader for the initial training course for new teaching staff. In the 90s he contributed to the design and delivery of a national programme of staff development in higher education on the issue of teaching more students and between 2005 – 2010 he was Deputy Director for two Centre’s for Excellence in Teaching and Learning – ASKe (Assessment Standards Knowledge Exchange) and the Reinvention Centre for undergraduate research (led by Warwick University).

He has researched and published on a range of issues including:

  • the experiences of new teachers in HE – the positive effects of supplemental instruction
  • the effectiveness of workshops as a method of staff development
  • many aspects of student assessment, including improving student performance through engagement in the marking process.
  • Over the years has also run numerous workshops around the country and internationally on a range of issues including teaching large classes, developing assessment strategies, and engaging students with assessment and feedback.

He achieved a PhD by publication in 2003, and became a professor in March 2010.

He is a Fellow of the RSA, a Senior Fellow of SEDA (Staff and Educational Development Association) and was one of the original 14 Senior Fellows of the UK Higher Education Academy, for whom he was also an accreditor.

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