BSA Lifestructures

Designing for Active Learning in Higher Education

Amber Sheckler, NCIDQ, LEED GA, Interior DesignerFebruary 28, 2019

Gone are the days of learning in rows with your chair bolted to the floor, passively listening to information being given to you. This traditional style of teaching has been around for decades, but over time it has proven to be an ineffective method of teaching among a large portion of students.

No two people learn or gather information the same way. Students need to be engaged and actively participate in their learning and creative thinking processes for them to stay motivated and invested in the subject.

To support this style of learning, the physical environment of the classroom itself needed to change. Creating a space that can be reconfigured with moveable furniture to accommodate different types of teaching and learning is crucial to the success of active learning. Students feel more comfortable when they have control of their environment, which provides a better opportunity for absorbing information.

Flexible learning environments allow for students to learn both in groups and from their peers, thus creating a more collaborative environment which builds social skills and helps to prepare them for the working world.

The classroom certainly plays a central role in active learning, but additional spaces outside the classroom strengthen this concept. Creating spaces for group meetings, focus work, and social interactions are large contributors to the success of an active learning environment. This can be done with soft seating areas, small meeting rooms with screens and larger conference rooms for group work.

To create the most holistic learning environment, it is necessary to address central learning areas as well as dispersed areas, which will not only lead to effective learning but be a more effective preparation tool for the future.

BSA’s design team incorporates active learning into many of our higher education projects, such as at the Wilmeth Active Learning Center at Purdue University. Check out how the design of this building supports today’s learning and teaching styles.

Contact Amber Sheckler at for more information on this topic or our national learning market leader, Geoff Lisle, at to hear more about our learning market.