Planning Active Learning Classrooms: Tips for Facility & User Groups

Planning Active Learning Classrooms: Tips for Facility & User Groups

Having designed many active learning classrooms that support peer-to-peer concepts, we have learned a few lessons. We explore some of those lessons in a two-part series about planning active learning spaces. This first installment provides advice for facility and user groups.

Open Space

The open space in the room is as important as the table space. For collaboration and use of perimeter whiteboards, students and faculty must be able to move freely. Space for people to pass each other, stand at a whiteboard and write, and look over each other’s shoulders is what this experience is about.


There is no perfect furniture solution in active learning classrooms. Flexibility and ease of reconfiguration are paramount but are often the very features at odds with connectivity and power supply. Disconnecting power or AV takes time, even if they are plug-in, which will affect available teaching time. Table shapes that work for collaboration do not reconfigure into neat and tidy rows as easily as suggested. It takes time and often more than one individual. The capacity in one configuration will not be the same in alternate configurations. Wireless may work in the near future, but right now we still need the power supply.

Room Capacity

The capacity will be less in active learning classrooms. Within a given space, the capacity of a collaborative environment will be less than with tablet arms. There is nothing as efficient for cramming students into a space as tablet arms. You can try square tables, round tables, hexagonal and octagonal tables, and they will all provide fewer seats than tablet arms. The only way to have the same or greater capacity is to have seats without tablet arms or tables.


Technology is moving so quickly that the device specified today may be obsolete prior to delivery. If possible, delay specification and purchase of AV and IT until the last possible moment. This will require flexibility within purchasing policies and flexibility in the design.


There will be faculty disagreement. These are emerging concepts which change years of practice. Not everyone is ready to make the leap to an active learning environment. The design team can be supportive and understanding but cannot resolve that challenge for the facility and user representatives.

This post was written by Richard Lehner AIA, LEEP AP


The second installment in this series elaborates on tips for design and construction professionals to consider when planning active learning classrooms.

Planning Active Learning Classrooms: Tips for Design & Construction Professionals


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