How might we co-design the learning ecosystem?

Perhaps the construction is close to completion for the new learning space. I’m sure you are keen to embrace diverse pedagogical approaches, develop collaborative teaching teams and create learning strategies to empower self-directed learners. That bright-shiny new space may have been designed to support future-focused, inquiry-based and learner-centred pedagogies, however, over time it can just as easily become a bright-shiny traditional classroom. And I’m sure that’s not what you had in mind.


In this post I  talk about:

  • Getting out of the ‘problem-fix loop’
  • Application of systems thinking
  • Designing the ecosystem to support learning

It takes more than providing new space, flexible furniture and openness to transform pedagogy and create the desired learning culture. In fact, to support longer term sustainable change there needs to be specific attention to the ecosystem. Within nature this is an interconnected bio-community of complex organisms which interact within their physical environment, and is a helpful metaphor to describe about the learning space.

By comparison, the traditional classroom is relatively simple. The nature of relationships are often hierarchical, reinforced by the uniform and orderly arrangement of furniture, with the orientation toward a front, while learners remaining ‘productively’ quiet and mostly fixed in position.

However, the physical environment in the multimodal learning space, can be comprised of several classes in a shared area, with multiple learning zones, a variety of focal points, different furniture options for different purposes. This context creates complexity, a network of humans, objects and pedagogies. However, as Dr Helen Street (2018) notes,

“The physical environment matters; it reflects our identity, shapes our behaviours and reflects the values of those who are ‘in charge’ of the space.”

This ‘community of complex organisms’ needs to design systems and strategies in each learning setting. Taking into account the users, the culture and the vision for the space. It is not desirable to merely shoe-horn traditional classroom systems and processes into the multimodal learning environment. There needs to be an intentional strategy to embed and then sustain change for the long haul. This can be achieved through applying systems thinking and a design-mindset.

How might we design the ecosystem to provide the context for future-focused, inquiry-based learning?

From the outset, attention to the interrelated elements in the ecosystem is critical to provide the foundation for transformation from traditional to student-centred learning. These may include:

  • Agreements and shared expectations,
  • Negotiated use of learning zones and resources in the space,
  • Furniture configuration,
  • Movement and line of sight issues, and importantly,
  • “Where do a put my stuff?”

The perspective of the ‘interrelated elements in the ecosystem’ helps us to see the whole picture rather than focusing on each individual issue as it arises, which can lead to a frustrating and incessant ‘problem-fix loop’. Alternatively, attention is given to the deeper issues that impact transformation – addressing mental models, identifying patterns and trend and co-designing systems. ‘

Senge (1990) suggests effective systems integrate with all the others to see the big picture, known as ‘systems thinking’, relying on the strength of the team learning together, their collective intelligence. Critical to this transformation is designing systems and structures.

How can I help you?

In my workshops and consultations with schools and systems I apply the principles of design thinking to the ecosystem: How teachers and students can work effectively by developing a shared understanding of how to use the space and get out of the frustrating ‘problem-fix loop’.

If you would like more information send me your details



Peter Senge, (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization

Dr Helen Street (2018) Contextual Wellbeing: Creating Positive Schools from the Inside Out 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: