Reviews, Teaching with Technology

The Art and Science of Creating Learning Environments – The Third Teacher book

The CTTL Learning Studio at Saint Louis Universityby Chris Grabau, Instructional Designer

One of the frequent conversations that occur when talking with faculty about the Learning Studio is the relationship between classroom space and technology.  While cameras, video walls, projectors, and other educational technology can be successfully utilized to help provide new approaches for teaching and learning, another component to teaching with technology is the understanding of how physical space supports and enhances the learning experience.

Whether the classroom space be a large lecture hall or an open-collaborative learning environment , the physical learning space must be suitable to support both the practice needs of technology (ample electricity, decent lighting, comfortable seating, etc) but the needs of student and faculty users must also be considered.  As a result, the form and function of classroom design becomes an important consideration when looking at instructional design.

Although the topic of classroom and learning space design has been the subject of educational research for nearly a 100 years (Whitehouse, 2009),  in recent years, a multi-disciplined approach incorporating architecture, interior design, educational psychology with learning space design is starting to emerge.

An example of this multi-disciplined focus on learning spaces can be found in the book, The Third Teacher, 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning (O’Donnell,, 2010).  Created by an international team of architects, designers, and educators, the book strives to offer 79 practice design ideas to transform teaching and learning.

The title of the book is based on a perspective of Italian psychologist Loris Malaguzzi’s work in the schools of Reggio Emilia following WWII. Malaguzzi asserted that students encounter three teachers: (1) the adult instructor(s), (2) their peers, and (3) the school environment itself  (Strong-Wilson, T., & Ellis, J., 2007)

Created through a collaborative project between the architectural firm OWP/P Architects, the German company VS Furniture, and Bruce Mau Design, the book utilizes design thinking found in architecture, interior design, and learning space design to create environments that facilitate 21st century learning.  More than just a prescriptive set of room layouts or profiles on modern furniture, the book combines theories on learning, wellness, design thinking, and creativity into a set group of principles that are clearly explained and complimentary for all disciplines and grade levels.

With a visually compelling layout that is easy to browse, the book is divided into eight sections to relating to learning space design.  Each section is supplemented notable educational theorists like Howard Gardner, Sir Ken Robinson, and David Orr to offer multiple perspectives on using design to help transform teaching and learning.

While the book complements many of the social constructivist theories of John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner, and Albert Bandura it should be viewed as a primer rather that a definitive text.  The book is useful as a quick resource on the emerging area of learning space design for the 21st century.

Although there are several other books that take a constructivist view towards education, technology and learning space design, but The Third Teacher is a nice contemporary primer.  For more information, visit Dr. Flannery Burke’s excellent post titled, Environment As The Third Teacher as well as the following resources:



Oblinger, D. (2006). Space as a change agent. In D.Oblinger (Ed.), Learning spaces (pp. 1.1–1.4). Washington, DC: EDUCAUSE.

O’Donnell Wicklund Pigozzi and Peterson, Architects Inc., VS Furniture., & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. New York: Abrams.

Strong-Wilson, T., & Ellis, J. (2007). Children and Place: Reggio Emilia’s Environment As Third Teacher. Theory Into Practice, 46(1), 40-47. doi:10.1207/s15430421tip4601_6

Whitehouse, D. (2009). Designing learning spaces that work: a case for the importance of history.History of Education Review, 38 (2), pp.94-108.

Additional Resources

Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J. and Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59 pp.678-689. (2013). Pedagogy and Space: Empirical Research on New Learning Environments (EDUCAUSE Quarterly) | [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 3 Jun 2013].

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition.

Photo credit: The photograph of the CTTL Learning Studio [at the top of the blog post] is courtesy of Herman Miller, Inc.