Linking the Design of Informal Learning Spaces to Student Use and Satisfaction


Architecture; informal learning spaces; cognitive science; behaviour

“A normal day in pandemics” Drawing by Ling Xu


This interdisciplinary project examines the interaction between physical learning spaces and the university students that use those spaces. The project focus is on informal learning spaces across various learning settings.

Our definition of informal learning spaces draws on the distinction in the learning sciences literature between formal and informal learning. We define informal learning spaces as spaces where students typically combine learning with other activities, such as eating, drinking and socialising. This is in contrast to formal learning spaces which are primarily designed for learning, such as classrooms, seminar rooms etc. Although the need for high quality informal learning spaces is acknowledged, there is little knowledge about the characteristics of such spaces. We address the gap in knowledge by examining how the design of informal learning spaces affects the student’s learning experience.

We focus on how students use and experience informal learning spaces. This is done through empirical research (student surveys, behavioural observations, behavioural experiments), and through drawing. We also examine the effect of the design of the space on student behaviour empirically in a 1:1 setting.

“Emergency office”, Working space of a D-ARCH diploma student during lockdown. Axonometry by Chair of Architectural Behaviorology, student assistant Tanguy Caversaccio

Research questions

Research questions to be addressed include:

What are the characteristics of informal learning spaces?

What makes for good learning spaces?

How can the design of informal learning spaces facilitate successful learning?

“Funnels of Knowledge” by Aude Sahli & Maxime Évéquoz

State of the project

We have held three student-oriented ideation workshops:

  1. Workshop on transition spaces, HIL foyer spaces, Sep 2019
  2. Workshop on learning in pandemic times, held remotely, summer 2020
  3. Workshop on learning spaces in libraries, ETH Main Library, Jan-Feb 2021

The Chair of Architectural Behaviorology has produced several very detailed drawings of how students use and behave in learning spaces. These will be published in a forthcoming arch+ issue, and have been exhibited in the following spaces:

  • Final exhibition of the “Learning in ransition Spaces” workshop, ETH Zurich, Sep 2019
  • “Confinement” exhibition, held at the gta, ETH Zurich, Oct-Dec 2020
  • Final exhibition of the “Learning in Pandemic Times” ETH Zurich, Winter 2020/21

“Confinement” exhibition. Photo Nelly Rodriguez

To go further

See project page for more details.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Hölscher

Prof. Dr. Momoyo Kaijima

Dr. Beatrix Emo

Grégoire Farquet

Prof. Dr. Manu Kapur

Prof. Dr. Elsbeth Stern

Prof. Dr. Christoph Stadtfeld

Prof. Dr. Renate Schubert

Prof. Dr. Mirko Meboldt