Learning spaces come in all shapes and sizes, just like the people who use them! In the same way that accessible physical spaces are key principles of inclusive design; careful and insightful planning of the digital environment present the same opportunities to anticipate need, to widen access and to address the diversity of prospective users.
Our learning environments have changed considerably over the last two decades. We’ve seen the design and re-design of buildings, we’ve seen the emergence of blended and online learning offering students a much more varied range of study opportunities and learning experiences.
Recently my colleague Julia Taylor blogged about Global Accessibility Awareness Day, she highlighted the importance of inclusive design for those shaping our digital world and explained why it matters to everyone. In the same way therefore that we’ve seen principles of universal design benefit everyone in the physical world, the advantages of accessible digital environments can be enjoyed by a wider range of users (not just the disabled people they were initially designed to support).
This only serves to reinforce the interdependency between the virtual and physical space, a point that was emphasised by delegates at the Jisc Digifest 2016 conference when asked what makes a great learning space in the digital age? This came up again at the Jisc Connect More 2017 Conference at Glasgow Caledonian University when a delegate reminded colleagues of the continued importance of learning spaces.
‘We need to remind staff that although pedagogy is changing, learning spaces are not becoming irrelevant.’
Digital and physical inclusion – planning ahead
According to Space for Learning, flexibility is the single most important attribute. The ideal learning space is a fully adaptable, flexible space, fit for multi-purpose, by multi-age and differently-able learners.
Temple University stipulate that all aspects of a learning space including signage, furniture, facilities, ancillary equipment, resources, technology, information and multimedia created or procured by the organisation should meet legislative requirements. Further emphasising the blend of physical and digital.
Taking the same approach as Temple University, we’ve tried to look beyond baseline accessibility standards and produce what could probably be described as more of a mashup or a brainstorm than a definitive list. It might however promote some food for thought in the context of blending the physical and digital environment.
Find out more
You might be interested in checking out our inclusive learning spaces design checklist.
Margaret McKay, subject specialist: accessibility and inclusion, Jisc