The design of the traditional lecture hall is optimised for the passive transfer of information from teacher to student, collaborative learning differs in its approach with an emphasis on student centred learning. In its most basic form, it is described as two or more people attempting to learn something together – a task or activity is divided between a group with each member fulfilling a particular role.

Loughborough Design School introduced the first collaborative lecture theatre to the UK back in 2011. Since then, a number of other leading universities have followed suit and introduced dual-purpose lecture spaces. This is very much indicative of a change in culture and attitude towards not only the learning experience itself, but also the digital student. Universities are increasingly seeing the transformation of the traditional lecture theatre into a collaborative space optimised for group work and interaction, as well as the innovative use of digital technology.

Collaborative learning spaces enable successful group engagement. This has numerous benefits as group work actively engages students with each other and their teacher, as well as demonstrating marked improvement across multiple sectors.

The Benefits of Collaborative Learning

Students learn valuable life skills through collaborative learning, developing a wide range of skills. When a group is presented with a task or an idea, there will often be a process of clarification, discussion and evaluation of ideas. Whilst it could be argued that all of this can be performed by an individual, it is generally accepted that two people working together to solve a problem or complete a task have a much better chance of success than one alone – 'two heads are better than one'.

Numerous academic, social and psychological benefits have been described for collaborative learning:

Listening and Learning from Peers

Learning to listen to what others have to say is a vital skill, it enables the share of knowledge and ideas more readily and individuals learn to understand more about what others are thinking.

Promotion of Critical Thinking

Students are more actively involved in the learning process during the collaborative student-centred approach, as they work together to solve problems and tasks in turn promoting their critical thinking skills. Whereas in the traditional setting, individual students passively absorb knowledge passed to them from their leader.

Taking Turns

Learning to wait your turn whilst being assertive enough to make your voice heard is a useful ability, developing this skill is easier in a small group rather than the whole room.

Cooperation and Sharing

Learning to work in a group and share ideas is a great strength, one which begins at a young age and is carried through into adult life and the work place. Lev Vygotsky's Social Development Theory suggests that community and collaboration play a central role in the learning process as well as social interaction and behaviour.

Sharing ideas however, is not easy for everyone, especially when there is the complex interplay of differing personality types – shy, extrovert, chatty, or an unwillingness to speak in front of the group, or individuals with stronger personalities who don't allow others to participate. Through collaborative learning, individuals can learn to develop more tolerance towards one other and through cooperation and encouragement, all members can successfully learn to share ideas.

Supporting Other Members of the Group

Safety in numbers – for some, working alone can lead to increased stress and a sense of isolation and vulnerability. By engaging in group work all members of the group have a sense of shared responsibility and benefit from the support of the rest of the group. Groups often have varying levels of ability within them, appropriate task delegation and recognition of strengths and weaknesses are very much part of collaborative working.

Learning to Agree and Disagree Respectfully

Diplomacy and engaging in constructive criticism is yet another useful skill – building tactful communication enables the transmission of honest opinions whilst preserving relationships and credibility within a team.

Placing Value on Everybody's Contribution

The student-centred approach can help improve self-esteem, as students build confidence within the group, learning to value the contribution of others as well as feeling that their own contribution is of value.

Joint Attention and Coordinating

For effective collaboration, students need to pay attention to the same thing, thinking and working together rather than in parallel. Members of the group are also accountable within the group.

Why is Furniture Important for Collaborative Learning?

The development of changes in the design of the traditional lecture theatre not only illustrate the changing cultures and attitudes in the university campus towards the learning approach as previously noted, the landscape of the lecture theatre and its architectural design is also fundamental to the output of collaborative learning.

A collaborative learning space provides a connection between technology and pedagogy creating a space which promotes learning, engagement and stimulation, whilst empowering students to work with one another in a connected and sharing environment.

The Collaborative Wave

Ferco Seating's latest purpose-built lecture system, The Collaborative Wave was designed in response to changing trends and perspectives. Its unique design allows students to work together in small groups without have to relocate to a different area of the room. This enables optimum peer to peer, as well as tutor to peer interaction.

The Collaborative Wave essentially consists of dividing the space into pods – curved table work areas, each of which seat groups of five. Flexible swivel seats allow the students to turn and face which ever direction they need to be in, and students are all able to interact with one another effectively with ease and comfort, considerably improving the experience and facilities for all the students.

The collaborative wave not only provides students with a more spacious work surface, but also offers greater utilisation to the campus as team work can be carried out at other times of the day, including weekends and evenings.

collaborative wave

Expanding Learning Inclusivity

The Collaborative Wave better supports students with any type of physical disability or learning difference, offering an opportunity to expand inclusion and improved provisions. This ultimately enables education providers to better support students with adjustments and ensure they are given the same opportunities as other students.

For more information on the Collaborative Wave, contact Ferco Seating.