The design of physical learning spaces in universities is an essential component of a student’s learning experience. We distinguish between formal and informal learning spaces. The definition of such spaces draws on the distinction in the learning sciences literature between formal and informal learning, although no accepted definition of such terms exists.

We define formal learning spaces as spaces which are primarily designed for learning. Examples of formal learning spaces are classrooms, seminar rooms, auditoriums, scientific laboratories and computer workstations. Another type of space we term informal learning spaces, in which students typically combine learning with other activities, such as eating, drinking and socialising. 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.

Our definition of formal versus informal learning spaces is based on the assigned use of the space. The assignment of use for formal learning spaces is clear; universities tend to dictate which spaces are primarily intended for learning, for example, by making rooms bookable that lecturers use to teach. This assignment of use does not preclude such a space from being used for a different activity, but it does affect how such spaces are designed and furnished. The assigned use of informal learning spaces is less clear. This is because informal learning spaces are spaces in which students combine learning with other activities, and so there is no clear authority assigning the use of the space. One aim of our project is to establish what the characteristics of informal learning spaces are. We aim to create our own taxonomy of the characteristics of informal learning spaces based on inputs from different fields.