Designing Learning Spaces that Cultivate Creation More than Consumption

Should educational institutions focus upon engaging students in consumer activities or producer activities?  Is it our goal that learners become excellent consumers or that they become skilled creators and producers while also being wise and critical consumers? If we want to refocus our efforts on creation, then how do we redesign the physical learning spaces to align with such a goal?  These are the exciting questions that continue to be asked in our “wild west era” of education, with promising models.

A consumer is one who uses products and services from a producer.  In the educational sense, we can think of a consumer as one who receives that which is provided by the instructor, educational software, or some other producer. Interestingly, the Online Etymology Dictionary notes that the common 15th century use of the word “consumer” was used to indicate, “one who squanders or wastes.” What is a producer?  I love this definition that shows up when you Google “definition of producer“, “A person, company, or country that makes, grows, or supplies goods or commodities for sale.”  In light of Chris Anderson’s book, Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing, allow me to suggest that we remove “for sale” from the end of that definition.  That leaves us with a producer as one who “makes, grows, or supplies commodities.”

Few would argue that the goal of education should be to cultivate the art of squandering and wasting, but what about the more common use of the word “consumer”?  Is the educational enterprise providing a social good if it only cultivates critical consumers?  Given the changing nature of life and work in the contemporary world, empowering one to leverage creative capacities affords far more possibilities and opportunities. It only makes sense that one’s education entails cultivating knowledge and skill in the realm of consumer and producer, learning to be a wise and critical consumer while also developing competence and confidence in what Howard Gardner refers to as the “creating mind.” This refers to a way of thinking and a set of skills that is available to anyone.  It is the way of thinking that allows one to diverge, innovate, design, construct, compose, invent, originate, make, shape, plan, formulate, and produce.  It is the pinnacle of Bloom’s Taxonomy because it is argued that these verbs represent “higher order thinking skills.”  They are also verbs that empower one to effect change in oneself, others, and the world around them.

Of course, this is not new.  This is a point that Sir Ken Robinson makes in his TED Talk about how Schools Kill Creativity. Richard Florida argued it in his book about Rise of the Creative Class, and it is discussed in a myriad of texts that argue for important skills of the 21st century life (Whole New Mind, 5 Minds for the Future, etc.).  More contributions to this conversation continue to emerge. I’m especially intrigued by the maker movement gaining a growing voice in learning organizations.  Sylvia Martinez’s book, Invet to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom is a delightful and useful addition to the conversation, providing specific and practical ideas on how educators can bring a bit of the maker movement into school, inviting students to learning by doing.

However, if we truly want to transition to schools as places of creation and production as much or more than consumption, spaces make a difference.  How might we design spaces that encourage learning through creation?  How do those spaces look similar or different from more traditional classrooms?  For a few ideas, consider the following five resources (or suggestion more in the comment section).

The Education Design Showcase – When you get to this site, browse the slide show on the home page for a glimpse into new and emerging designs for learning spaces.  It doesn’t take long to begin imagining the possibilites.

Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration – This book tells the story (in words and pictures) of the Stanford D-School.  Now only does it provide interesting design ideas, but it also explains the depth of thought and intention that informs the design decisions.

Great Schools by Design (Center for Advancement of Architecture) – This site offers more insight into a variety of school designs, including short video case studies from different schools.  The snippet about The School of One is excellent.

The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching and Learning – This text provides practical examples of how design influences teaching and learning.  For the educator looking for next steps, this is a great resource.

Ten Innovative School Designs – You may not take practical next steps from this tour of ten amazing designs, but it certainly offers to inspire.

Posted in blog, design thinking, education, educational design

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.

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