If you have ever visited a college campus, then you are already very familiar with the picturesque scene of students lounging casually between classes, maybe grabbing some coffee in the student union building, gathering in lounge areas in the hall, or even seated outside during the fall or spring catching some well deserved Vitamin D. Although we may have often chalked up these social or solitary moments as a mental break from academics in the past, what we’re beginning to understand is that these impromptu conversations are actually opportunities for material enrichment, extending the classroom from the 50 minute classroom discussions to ripples of academic digestion throughout the campus.
Informal learning spaces are outside of the traditional classroom or auditorium environment, and supporting these as enriched learning opportunities has become a crucial niche in higher education space design. Whether used socially, spontaneously or as a temporary academic escape, highly flexible environments that can shift responsively depending on student needs are highly coveted. To support this growing trend, we have identified 5 buzzwords as Informal Learning Lingo that are sure to catch on as this trend grows in popularity:
1. Campers: This term often replies to those students who spend an extended period of time in one informal learning space (usually 4+ hours). “Results showed that students often visit informal learning spaces …who often sit and stay for hours [are labeled] as campers” (Read More). Possible reasons for this length of stay could be commuters who arrive early and schedule study time before or between classes.
2. Espressos: Conversely compared to campers, espressos maintain short and sweet stays within informal learning spaces. “The term ‘espressos’ is proposed for these students who use informal learning spaces for a short period of time” (Read More).
3. Campfire Effect: This occurrence has been coined by the cluster that often happens around power sources, supporting a BYOD mentality both inside and outside of the traditional classroom. “These spaces should offer a variety of technological capabilities, charging/power connection areas, and team work space with audiovisual equipment to create a ‘campfire effect’ allowing students to plug in and immediately engage in activity” (Read More).
4. Learning Streets: These are well-designed areas that are in close proximity to formal learning spaces, and “activate circulation spaces and encourage impromptu encounters among students and between students and faculty.” (Read More). These spaces could include lounges, courtyards, and study rooms.
5. Front Porches: These spontaneous spaces are immediately outside formal spaces, provide opportunities for conversations that continue classroom discussions immediately following class time” (Read More). Hallways are now even a great opportunity for casual discovery.
Regardless of the identification of the space, informal learning opportunities are popping up all over campuses. Whether a student wishes to escape or is drawn by the magnetism of a social group, offering a space design that is flexible and can be easily converted to fit students’ needs has become a necessity outside of the 4 walls of the traditional classroom.