Archetypal Spaces For Learning

What do your learning spaces look like?

Noted educational futurist David Thornburg identifies three archetypal learning spaces that schools can use as physical spaces and virtual spaces for student and adult learning.

These are the campfire, cave, and watering hole.

1. The campfire (information)

This is a space where people gather to listen and learn from an elder, an expert or student presenters. It can be used for teacher to student and more importantly for peer to peer instruction.

A place characterised by communication flowing from one to many (particularly knowledge transmission and stories), where everyone can focus on the person(s) talking or presenting. The campfire is often rhe starting point for a learning concept or project, the stimulus or inspiration for study, reflection and creativity.

This is the whole class together perhaps in a circle or a talking circle characterised by:

  • classmates respecting each other
  • responding to questions
  • active listening
  • not speaking when someone else is speaking

For example: classroom, lecture hall, learning studio, theatre space, learning lab

2. The watering hole (conversation)

This is a space for shared culture. It is a small informal area, where groups of students can share in collaborative learning experiences. It is more conversational and less hierarchical. A space where peers share information and learn from each other.

A place for exchanging communication, typically placed in a location you would naturally move to or through; where people gather in groups of various sizes and where you might bump into

This is a collaborative group work space characterised by:

  • working as a team
  • listening to others
  • everyone contributing

These are the ultimate “water-cooler” spaces where it’s possible to interact, problem-solve, debate and collaborate

For example: conference, breakout, café, project room, small group area, sticky space

3. The cave (concept)

This is a private space, where students can find that much needed alone time useful for reflection on their learning or just to recharge (a necessary space for those students with special needs). It is characterised by retreating from the group for individual reflection, study, ideation. A place for introspection and learning from oneself.

A place for individual study, quiet reflection, to explore questions, make connections, and experience creative flow; a place where communication flows within oneself, requiring a physical frame
that promotes seclusion.

A space for independent work and self-assessment characterised by:

  • not disturbing others
  • being on task
  • working quietly

Everyone needs a place free from external influences to synthesise information and to think.

For example: Nooks and crannies, study carrel, quiet space, pod

Give Me Space

What does this concept mean for teachers?

How do you mix the learning spaces in your teaching? Does one space dominate?

Nair, Fielding and Lackney suggest cave spaces are critical for today’s learners: “places for individual study, reflection, quiet reading and creative flow are rare in school” and they argue, it’s in these places of solitude that students, “assimilate, synthesize and internalize.”

Where are the campfire, the watering hole and the cave to be found in the course of a student’s day in your school?

What about staff? Where do we find the campfire, watering hole and cave?

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