Archives of
Learning Environments



These illustrations of learning environments are provided for clients of the University of Georgia's School Design and Planning Laboratory (SDPL). They are aimed at enhancing thinking about architectural/natural support systems for learning. A basic conceptual foundation for design and planning is presented in the Chart of Architectural/Natural Support Systems for School Design and Construction below. The chart is to be used as a guide for raising questions that cut across the fields such as environmental psychology, philosophy, behavioral and physical development, school curriculum, school leadership, management of resources, and architecture.

SDPL operates under the assumption that the larger part of the problems addressed could be the fault of educational institutions. Public educators and school boards have often allowed the distance to expand between the educational program (curriculum) and developmentally appropriate built environments. This is probably a result of local and state political pressure plus the demand to build "cheap" structures quickly in the wake of increasing or changing student populations. The field of architecture may also have a stake in the problem. Some initial questions will help to understand SDPL's mission:

    • Why do many public school systems in an affluent society such as the United States allow the construction of educational  facilities that do not match state-of-the-art curriculum?
    • Is there a sound reason why aesthetics are not given more consideration in built learning environments?
    • Why do prisons often have more aesthetic value than many of our schools?
    • Is there a need to continue the construction of large, high density, schools (elementary schools that house 1,000 students, middle and high schools that house 2,000 students, for example)?
    • Should schools be built without windows?
    • How are we providing for outdoor learning in the curriculum and in the design of schools?
    • Why do we allow woodland sites to be leveled for school construction when it is unnecessary?
    • Are we willing to build schools "In Harmony With Nature?"
    • Given the leveled and stripped of trees site, what message is sent to students when teachers provide instructional units on green architecture, conservation of timber, water, wise use of natural resources, and aesthetics of natural environments?
    • Are "trailers" safe learning environments?
    • In general, Why do we do what we do?
    • Can present thinking be changed?

 UGA's School Design and Planning Laboratory focuses on how we design, plan, and construct schools. The assertion is that the gap is widening between learning goals/activities and built learning environments. The research activities of SDPL are aimed at reducing this gap. The conceptual matrix that guides activities may be simplified as follows:

Chart of Architectural/Natural Support Systems for School Design and Construction (Example)
 Developmental Characteristics
 Learning Goals
 Learning Activity
 Architectural/Natural Support System
 Cognitive Development
 Concept Formation
 Problem Solving
 Discover the influence beavers have on ecology
 Beaver Pond
 Behavioral Development
 Repetition of Tasks; Coordination
 Individual; Group
  Enjoy an Adventure on a Playscape
 Playground and Park
 Affective Development
Visual, Spatial Musical, Intuitive Valuing Development
 Creative Growth - Apply the Experiences at the Theater to Assessment of One's Life
Experience  Drama and Music
© C. Kenneth Tanner, University of Georgia

Any architectural or natural support system may influence cognitive, behavioral, and affective development. Several overlapping classifications, regardless of the developmental theory, appear to be the rule rather than the exception. This is welcomed. The goal is to explain why we do what we do regarding the selection of the architectural/natural support system.

While there may be overlap in the typology, these classifications serve as a basis for research, outreach, and teaching. Aesthetic factors, including site location, fit into the architectural/natural support system. Site location is a design factor. Aesthetics do not have to be correlated to higher costs. Educators, especially educational leaders, must realize that approximately 70% of the costs and nearly 100% of the aesthetic and educational value of a school are decided during the planning and design stages. These facts justify the SDPL's existence.

SDPL's Indoor Learning Environments
Indoor Learning Environments
Instructional Neighborhood (Mini CityTM)
New, Bland, and Boring
Campus Model

SDPL's Outdoor Learning Environments
Botanical Garden of Georgia 
  Creek and Wetlands
 Beaver Pond in Ma
Dove Habitat

  Playground and Park
 Endangered Pitcher Plants
 Maya Ruins

Tiny Town
Garden Earth TM 

Coordination Course 

NOVA Online
Online Expeditions

"Outer Space" Environments
Mars Pathfinder

School Design and Planning Laboratory
A Site Designed by Dr. Ken Tanner
The University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602