Designing Spaces for Learning

Assignment 4-

 Literature Critique 

Bec Spink- @missb6_2

Brown, T., & Katz, B. (2011). Change by Design. Journal Of Product Innovation Management, 28(3), 381-383. Retrieved from 


Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking.Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21. Retrieved from 


Dyson, J. (2011). No Innovator’s Dilemma Here: In Praise of Failure. Retrieved from 


Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in

Innovation acceleration : transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston :

Pearson. Retrieved from 


Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important?Review of Educational Research, September, 82 (3), 330–348. Retrieved from 


Wang, Y., & Derthanq, V. (2011). Instructors as Architects- Designing Learning Spaces for Discussion-Based Online Courses. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 39:3, 281-194. Retrieved from 


Creativity. Innovation. Tinkering. Inventing. Making. Flexible. Design. Design thinking. These terms continuously bombard the education sector in conceiving spaces for learning. But words are just words and without considered thought continue to emphasise the discord between building spaces, the design of spaces for learning and how those spaces are used. When reviewing the literature above it is apparent that the understanding of design and design thinking is an overall process that allows ‘designers’ to convert an idea into form (Kuratko, Goldsworthy & Hornsby, 2012). But who are designers? What do they do? How do they think? And why is there such a contention between what the literature says about expert and novice designers? This essay will examine the six pieces of literature cited above to highlight the discussion between design thinking and the need for a holistic approach to design, the importance of design going beyond the boundaries of the physical space (Brown & Katz, 2011). As well as expose an analysis of designing spaces for learning and real world practice.


Traditional views of design and the design process are more often than not related to those who are engineers, architects or artists, industries that call for invention and creativity. However, Brown and Katz in Change by Design (2011) argue that design is not just for designers. This common misconception about the place for design is highlighted by Kuratko et al.(2012) stating that design goes beyond the industries above, anyone who follows a course of action to change an existing situation is a designer. There is a need for everyone to ‘think like a designer’, as noted importantly by Brown and Katz (2011) that designers have mastered skills that can be applied to a wider range of problems and industries. In the education field, it is traditionally viewed that teachers and students are, in fact, just primarily users of space rather than creators of space. They do not view themselves as learning space designers and more often than not accept the ‘default’ they have been given (Wang & Chen, 2011).


Given the literature it is nearly impossible to surmise one fundamental description of design thinking. However, one thing is sure, the description of design thinking being both analytical and chaotic across the reading and at times within one reading demonstrates a certain amount of discord that should be considered. Razzouk and Shute (2012), explain design thinking as a natural, ubiquitous activity driven by an analytical and creative process. The authors go on to explain how the design thinking process works from the bottom up focussing on the designer to prioritise early in the process and consider specifications and requirements. An ordered and focussed process. The idea that design thinking is reflective of ‘modification’ in this article clearly contradicts the understanding of design thinking by Buchanan (1992) stating that something that is impossible is only a limitation of the imagination which can be overcome through the design thinking process. A chaotic process is something that is viewed as unorganised or disorderly however the process of inspiration, ideation and implementation described by Brown and Katz (2011) or the process of design driven by purpose and function with intent articulated by Wang and Chen (2011) suggest that design thinking is anything but chaotic. Razzouk and Shute (2012) do continue to describe that the design thinking process may feel more chaotic for a novice designer than an expert.


Throughout the literature, there is apparent contention and contradiction surrounding the feasibility and success of novice and expert designers. Kuratko et al., (2012) emphasise the importance of restriction free thinking synonymous with an expert designer, where they articulate many possible solutions to the problem, are open to new ideas and appreciate feedback in order for them to go back and continue to 'play’ with their ideas. Razzouk & Shute (2012) point out that due to dedicated practice, expert designers can go beyond the surface level features of the problem. However, throughout this article the authors describe expert design thinkers as being more solution focussed rather than problem focused. They continue to explain that expert designers change their goals and evaluate constraints, are quick to reject alternatives and more often than not, improve or make a solution work rather than come up with a new or more innovative idea. This solution focused ideology is contradicted by Brown and Katz (2011) where they describe that the greatest design thinkers are creative innovators who are driven by the most significant challenges. This article further explores expert design thinkers as having disruptive and game-changing potential.


An interesting point discussed by Razzouk and Shute (2012) highlights the idea that expert design thinkers are quick to reject alternatives when given feedback. Despite this, the authors go on to describe that design thinking allows knowledge to be generated through action and changes how people learn and solve problems (Razzouk & Shute, 2012). Equally important, Buchanan (2012) explains that design thinking results in more than a series of creative accidents. Given the research about the importance of feedback- being one of the most critical influences on learning (Hattie & Timperley, 2007), it could be considered as a valuable and incredibly important component of the design thinking process. Feedback is not the answer but an answer in the learning process, feedback builds on what is already there (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). The importance of feedback is also discussed by Rees (2011) valuing frequent feedback early in the design process and highlighted by Kuratko et al., (2012) noting that the consultation with users and others is important in accelerating the design process.


When contemplating learners as design thinkers, it is argued that young people especially, are unburdened by experience that enables them to consider design problems from a different perspective without preconceived ideas. This allows a greater sense of potential and risk taking (Dyson, 2011). Given this view, it could be argued that novice design thinkers could, in fact, create more innovative and creative solutions than their experienced counterparts.


Key themes of creativity and innovation run concurrently throughout the literature. Brown and Katz (2011) highlight the new possibilities, choices and solutions created through design thinking. Buchanan (1992) points out that ‘impossible’ is only limited by the imagination. In education, the place for design thinking provides a flexible approach, challenging the traditional views of a teacher. As educators it is known that creativity is essential for preparing students adequately for a digital, information and knowledge-based economy. In order for them to be successful in a workforce where many jobs do not even exist yet, they need to think differently and adopt a more unconventional approach to thinking and creating (Wooten, 2013). Buchanan (1992) explains that design thinking calls for experimental thinking, a place for invention and a reconsideration of problems and solutions. When viewing design problems; signs, things, actions and thoughts should all be taken into consideration, interconnected and merged in order to create surprising consequences for innovation. This idea of design thinking creating innovation is challenged by Razzouk and Shute (2012), fostering the notion that creative thinking in the design process merely generates solutions. Moving beyond solution focused design, Dyson (2011) articulates the idea that failure is a problem that just has not been solved yet, that through ‘failures’ designers and inventors learn from mistakes. A trial and error process that fosters creativity.


In reviewing the design of learning spaces, it is important to articulate the fact that traditional views of learning spaces are changing in a way that provides both students and teachers with an unorthodox potential for creative thinking (Weaver, 2006). In Instructors as Architects (Wang & Chen, 2011), it is considered that educators should evaluate their educational aspirations and teaching philosophy when conceiving spaces for learning, moving beyond the users of space to the creators of space. Learning spaces should be indicative of a modern learning environment that thrives on innovation and illustrates a collaborative approach to teaching and learning (Doorley & Witthoft, 2012). It should enable the classroom environment to move away from the traditional model of an isolated, single-teacher in one classroom (Campbell et al., 2013). The design of modern learning spaces are evolving to incorporate both informal and formal pedagogical approaches, moving from teacher-centered to student-centered learning (Dovey & Fisher, 2014).


When conceiving and designing spaces for learning these pedagogical aspirations and approaches should be at the forefront of the design process. This insight is described by Brown and Katz (2011), specifically the idea of putting people first. This empathy is a fundamental shift in the design thinking process (Brown & Katz, 2011). In recent years, eleven schools in Victoria were built under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement between the DEECD and Axiom Education (Murphy, 2008). The partnership enabled the company to design, build, finance and maintain the schools for the DEECD (Murphy, 2008). The school buildings comprise of a mix of permanent and temporary (relocatable) facilities. The project offered a number of key design principles which included that designs must promote active, student-centred learning for all students through the creation of flexible, functional areas that support contemporary learning and teaching practices (DEECD, 2008).


The rationale for the Public Private Partnership (PPP) also explained that school design has a significant impact on staff morale and willingness to embrace new practice (DEECD, 2008). Nevertheless, it has been observed that the open spaces some classrooms at Aitken Creek Primary School are predominately used as walkways between the main school building and relocatable buildings at the back of the school. It was also noted that the flexible, open spaces were not used as an active, integrated, modern learning space by the teachers or students in the area (Spink, 2014b). It is obvious in this context that when conceiving the learning space and designing the school that the design did not, in fact, go beyond the boundaries of the physical space- a fundamental design element noted by Brown and Katz (2011). In order for the space to be used effectively in regards to the pedagogical aspirations of the school, more work in the initial design and up skilling of teachers is needed. As suggested by Weaver (2006), the creation of learning spaces should be designed from the beginning, with learning in mind.


Another key design principle outlined in the rationale stated that the school design should reflect the cultural identity of the surrounding area (DEECD, 2008). The importance of understanding and designing for the social context of a learning space is also described by Dovey and Fisher (2014), noting the architectural innovation changed in some schools given their understanding of learning spaces. The fact the eleven nearly identical PPP schools were built across the state in culturally and socially different areas demonstrates the lack of planning for social and cultural differences in the school design.


Temple (2010) explains that design shapes ideas into practical solutions for users, in the same way, the process of design converts an idea into form (Kuratko et al., 2012). In observing changes in a virtual learning space for teachers, this conversion of an idea beginning with a generative topic title as discussed by Ford (2013), becoming a practical solution has been successful (Spink, 2014a). Given the understanding that learners learn best in an environment where they feel connected to each other (Wang & Chen, 2011). Along with valuing how online tools and spaces can have a direct impact on developing employee learning potential, building communities, developing a positive learning culture and growing collective intelligence (Bingham & Conner, 2010). Wang and Chen (2011) describe an online space as dynamic, being able to be built, dismantled and remodelled to suit the users. The initial design focus of this area was directed around the learning architecture (Sorensen & Murchú, 2004), a space where staff could both formally and informally share and discuss learning. Being able to ‘work backwards’ (Razzouk & Shute, 2012), having the user in mind in this process was fundamental.


Accepting constraints, flexibility and focus are essential aspects of the design thinking process described by Kuratko et al. (2012) and reiterated by Dyson (2011) describing failures as just problems that have yet to be solved. These elements are indicative of a successful design process. In the quest for providing more meaningful and satisfying experiences Buchanan (1992), discusses how design thinking can contribute to such  reality. In conceiving and designing spaces for learning it is imperative that the designer becomes immersed in the project (Kuratko et al., 2012) to be successful, thinks of the user first (Brown & Katz, 2011) and conceives the space with learning in mind (Wang & Chen, 2011). It is important that when presented with feedback that the designer does not take it personally or hold on to their original idea too tightly (Kuratko, 2011), feedback being a critical contributing factor to the development of a product- or learning space as it is to the learning process (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).


Now more than ever it is critical for everyone- no matter their background or current industry, adults and children alike to view themselves as designers. Design is not just for designers (Brown and Katz, 2011). Teachers especially need to relish in this opportunity and privilege in conceiving, designing, building and moulding learning spaces to meet the needs of their students and their pedagogical philosophy and aspirations (Wang & Chen, 2011). All educators, designers and architects of learning spaces need to understand the fact that “Learning space— whether physical or virtual—can have an impact on learning” (Oblinger, 2006, p. 1.1) and design accordingly. Design and design thinking should not only be considered when imagining learning spaces but form an integral part of 21st century learning design. The incorporation of design thinking in the learning process and the positive effects on student learning have been described by Razzouk & Shute (2012) suggesting that the skills are consistent with developmental and constructivist learning theories and involve creative thinking in generating solutions.


Dyson (2011) points out that education should be about learning, not box ticking. When conceiving spaces for learning and design student learning activities this should always be a priority. Hands-on, creative and innovative thinking are born through design and the design thinking process and as Dyson (2011) suggests, are a sure fire way to avoid prescriptive learning.





Brown, T., & Katz, B. (2011). Change by Design. Journal Of Product Innovation Management, 28(3), 381-383. Retrieved from


Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking.Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21. Retrieved from


Campbell, M., Saltmarsh, S.,Chapman, A. & Drew, C. (2013). Issues of teacher professional learning within ‘non-traditional’ classroom environments. Improving Schools. vol. 16 no. 3 209-222. Retrieved from


DEECD. (2008). A Common Educational Rationale for the Partnerships Victoria in Schools Project. Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.


Doorley, D., & Witthoft, S. (2012). Make Space: How to set the stage for creative collaboration. John Wiley & Sons.


Dovey, K., & Fisher, K. (2014). Designing for adaptation: the school as socio-spatial assemblage, The Journal of Architecture, 19:1, 43-63. Retrieved from


Dyson, J. (2011). No Innovator’s Dilemma Here: In Praise of Failure. Retrieved from


Ford, P. (2013). NoTosh – Design Thinking: Immersion 1 | Develop a generative topic title. Retrieved, from


Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 81–112. Retrieved


Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in Innovation acceleration : transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston : Pearson. Retrieved from


Murphy, M. (2008). $200m state schools building scheme goes to Axiom group. Retrieved from


Oblinger, D. G. (2006). Spaces as a change agent. In D. G. Oblinger (Ed)., Learning spaces (pp. 1.1–1.4). Retrieved from EDUCAUSE


Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important?Review of Educational Research, September, 82 (3), 330–348. Retrieved from


Rees, E. (2011). The lean startup: How constant innovation creates radically successful businesses. London: Portfolio Penguin


Spink, R. (2014a). But I’m Not a Designer…Changing a Problem Space. Retrieved from


Spink, R. (2014b). What will you Create? INF536 Blog Task 3: Design Brief. Retrieved from


Sorensen, E.K., & Murchú, D.O. (2004). Designing online learning communities of practice: A democratic perspective, Journal of Educational Media, 29:3, 189-200. Retrieved from


Temple, M. (2010). The design council: A review. Department for Business, Industry and Skills (UK). Retrieved from:


Wang, Y., & Chen, V. D. (2011). Instructors as Architects- Designing Learning Spaces for Discussion-Based Online Courses. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 39:3, 281-194. Retrieved from


Wootten, R. (2013). 7 Characteristics of an Innovative Educator [Blog Post]. Retrieved May 28, 2014, from