What makes a successful informal learning space?

Academic libraries across the world are going through a number of significant shifts to meet the requirements of its modern day users, one being the design of the physical space itself.

The digital era brings with it new ways of learning and accessing information – often all that is required is a device to access the internet and a wi-fi connection. With this in mind, how can libraries evolve to create an informal learning space that encourages productivity, as well as offer more to be desired than the users own private workspace?

The study

Deborah Harrop and Bea Turpin carried out a study at Sheffield Hallam University, to explore learners’ behaviors, attitudes, and preferences towards informal learning spaces in higher education. The longitudinal study involved both qualitative and quantitative data to identify the ‘how, what, where, when and why’ over two phases. Phase one involving observations of learning spaces across Sheffield Hallam University, and phase two measuring a portfolio of physical spaces supporting informal learning on and off campus. See their full article for New Review of Academic Librarianship on Taylor & Francis Online: “A Study Exploring Learners’ Informal Learning Space Behaviors, Attitudes, and Preferences.”

The findings revealed that user preferences for informal learning spaces can be identified through 9 attributes:

  • Destination – Where learners go to study
  • Identity – The ethos of the space and how it should be used
  • Conversations – Collaboration and interpersonal communication
  • Community – Social interactions, support and sense of common purpose
  • Retreat – Privacy & quiet study
  • Timely – Just in-time and on demand access to spaces and their resources
  • Human factors – Ergonomics of work spaces & physical attributes
  • Resources – Access to technology
  • Refreshment – Access to food & drink

A summary of each attribute can be found within our infographic, which can be used to evaluate existing spaces and provide a clear identity for other libraries or learning spaces undergoing developments.

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