Studies in shared learning spaces

Learn how six schools in Scotland put learners and teachers at the heart of decision making to improve learning environments. 

 Teachers discussing a model floorplan of their school during a Tests of Change workshop.
Published: 18/11/2021

This set of case studies is for teachers and learners looking to improve their learning spaces. They can use them to work together and find the best solutions.  

Read on to learn about the Tests of Change process, which helps gradual improvement in the learning estate, and see it in action at six primary and high schools. 

We commissioned the Shared Learned Spaces research team at University of Edinburgh to undertake research and develop these case studies based on our Tests of Change projects. 

This page covers: 

View case study

Download the full version for the curriculum’s ‘experiences and outcomes’ that the learners met, quotes from the teachers and learners involved, and images from the six schools.

Tests of Change process 

With our process called Tests of Change we aim to develop a culture of testing. This helps inform approaches to how to design and invest in learning spaces.

The process places learners and teachers at the centre of decision making. Proposed changes are informed by place-based analysis and evidence to enhance learning and teaching environments. 

The main stages of Tests of Change

Outcome planning: Consulting with school leaders and teachers to set the scope of change and find issues and opportunities. 

Testing solutions: Workshops called ‘space hacks’ that involve learners and teachers testing new designs for learning spaces.

Evaluating impact: Highlighting findings from the space hack to help inform investment opportunities. 

The tools we use

These are designed to challenge users and to provide them with principled ideas for change.  

They are organised into three broad groups: symbolic, physical and digital tools. They are flexible and can be used independently or together. 

  • Symbolic tools: a set of visual symbols to ensure design principles are accessible to everyone, especially the learners. 

  • Physical tools: materials like cardboard boxes, Lego and Kapla that learners can use to apply design principles. 

  • Digital tools: design software programmes like Sketch Up and Autocad Revit. 

“It’s important for children to get involved in classroom design because it’s going to be their environment. It’s better for you to feel like you’ve picked it and it’s comfortable for you. It helps you learn more, and it’s just a better environment for you.”

Corstorphine Primary School learner
Corstorphine Primary School pupils creating a collage and discussing how they would like to use a space with a teacher.

Tests of Change process: plan, do, act, study

Image credit: Architecture and Design Scotland

What does the process include?

Tests of Change is based on an action-enquiry cycle: plan, do, study, act (PDSA). This four-step process encourages learners and teachers to be at the forefront of problem-solving and decision-making to drive change in their own learning environments.

The process include the following: 

Plan: background and needs analysis

  • Consider what we want to achieve - our vision/values
  • Agreeing needs, priorities, spatial analysis
  • Scoping, selecting and mapping for change

Do: testing and exploring the tools

  • Exploring and selecting different tools and design plans in line with CfE and curriculum making
  • Initiating use of tools, exploratory phase, clear goals, projects, tasks and activities - Link to Es and Os
  • Clarifying timelines and phases

Study: monitoring and evaluating

  • Monitoring bespoke toolkit and defining benchmarks for evaluation across all projects and activities
  • Analysing and reflecting on data/experiences

Act: outcomes and next steps for sustainability

  • Reflecting and planning next steps, including going beyond the school (external sharing)
  • Designing the subsequent cycle for sustainability and expansion

Tests of Change is a collective approach to problem-solving with learner voice at the core. We have used the PDSA approach in presenting the following case studies.

Tests of Change in action: case studies

The following case studies focus on six schools that have applied the Tests of Change principles in redeveloping their learning spaces. The PDF contains which of the curriculum’s ‘experiences and outcomes’ the learners met.


The school’s improvement plan commits to use innovative approaches to 21st century learning and teaching. 

Working together as a learning community, visionary workshops for teachers and learners helped the school find two main issues:

  • Learning spaces were not working well. 
  • There was a desire to create new experiences in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM), social spaces and family learning. 

The school decided that, because they were not due for major investment, they would build ‘a culture of collaboration’. This culture would see existing spaces re-imagined and re-purposed to create new opportunities. 


The first step was to declutter. Learners and teachers then together agreed a strategy for how to improves spaces – a ‘space strategy’ – for their school improvement plan.  

Through a series of ‘space hacks’, learners tested ideas by building 1:1 scale models of new learning spaces. They tried out new methods of collaboration and solo working. 


A team of learners – ‘the space pioneers’ – helped implement the space strategy. Using what they learned from the tests, they worked with a designer to create new furniture.  

They visited the manufacturing facility, put the furniture together and helped their classmates use the new furniture.  

Parents and grandparents inspired them to incorporate classic board games in the furniture they designed. 


Through these initial workshops teachers and learners maximised the opportunities provided by the Tests of Change process.  

Drawing on our expertise, they have embedded learning-space design within their school in the long term. These experiences have: 

  • pulled them together as a school 
  • enabled them to maintain a relationship with a design consultant 
  • demonstrated how learners get more involved when they see their teachers’ commitment 
  • taught learners new skills in line with the Scottish Government’s Developing the Young Workforce strategy 
  • provided a way to easily identify and monitor what experiences and outcomes the learners were meeting


Clydebank High School is a public-private partnership (PPP) school with about 150 staff who support 1,200 learners and their families.  

The school improvement plan identifies health and wellbeing as a priority. This can be met by ensuring more choice for learners and that their voices are heard.  

The focus of this project was to support a learner-led approach to re-imagine spaces to better support socialisation. It was also to test what was possible in the space. 


Teachers were looking at ways to make better use of learning spaces to meet individual learner needs.  

A group of teachers and learners from first year to sixth year engaged in a visionary workshop to develop a strategy for change. Prioritising learner voice, they focussed on: 

  • break out spaces for individual or group work. 
  • use of social spaces and circulation spaces for social learning. Circulation refers to the movement of people around buildings. 
  • flexible learning space, adaptable for subjects and learning styles.  

Working with teachers, the learners identified and agreed the spaces to prototype and test new models of learning.  

They gathered evidence around circulation, materials, health and safety and adaptability. The learners used cardboard, cushions and rugs to create 1:1 scale models. 


Through the space hack learners tested and evaluated seven different formats. This helped them to create evidence to inform decisions on future investment in the school.  

The spaces they tested included:  

  • quiet study booths and standing desks 
  • collaboration tables 
  • presentation space and drama stage 
  • break-time space that supported socialisation  

Learners were very much at the centre of the Tests of Change process, enabling them to take on leadership roles and be more creative.  

With learners leading the design, teachers noted they were more engaged, and their needs were being met. This led to more productivity and innovation within the school.  

Each test identified and emphasised the main priority to extend the choice of spaces. This was built on the premise that learners would gain a sense of wellbeing by experiencing different spaces conducive to their needs. 


Testing the prototypes in the spaces showed what was possible. It provided immediate feedback to learners on their ideas, as well as evidence for decision makers.  

The Tests of Change experience gave learners an opportunity to be at the heart of decision making – they were integral to the planning and execution process.  

Teachers were able to further embed a 21st century learning and teaching model into their practice. It’s a model that recognises that each young person has their own individual needs.  

The Tests of Change process enabled teachers and learners to identify how those needs might be met. The teachers found the process purposeful, hands-on and experiential.


Teachers and learners at the school wanted to investigate ways in which their learning spaces could be enhanced.  

The learners completed a mind-mapping exercise exploring what makes a positive learning environment.  

Teachers and learners evaluated, discussed and identified spaces where learning design might lead to renovation and enhancement.  

They chose a play environment, the school library, a ‘treehouse’, and a wellbeing space. Staff focused on a ‘support for learning’ space. 


Once the spaces had been identified, the learners got to work designing the changes. The symbolic tools were used to discuss learning and the importance and impact of space, which guided their designs.  

The physical tools were also integrated into the design process to help learners conceptualise different layouts and spaces for learning.  

A space hack was used with cardboard boxes, Lego and Kapla to plan designs and test what might and might not work in the space.  

The learners created 2D and 3D designs in groups and shared and discussed their ideas. This process helped to develop understanding of scalability and the applicability of their design ideas.  

It also helped to spark discussions about the importance of the spaces being inclusive and accessible for all learners. 


Throughout the process, teachers mapped their learning-space design activities against the school’s priorities. They used documents like the school improvement plan, how good is our school? (HGIOS), and CfE

Learners were at the forefront of co-designing the renovation of the two specialist spaces, with inclusivity and learner ownership at the forefront of activities.  

One newly qualified teacher based their professional inquiry on using the toolkit with learners. They described how the process had promoted learner voice and led to the creation of truly inclusive learning spaces.  

The teachers ensured that all design activities using the tools were clearly linked to learning and the curriculum. And they made sure they could show clear evidence of the impact on the learners, teachers and wider school. 


Teachers hugely valued the conceptual nature of the symbolic tools. They reported how the tools created new possibilities for discussing with learners the values underpinning their learning. And they said they gave a clear strategy for planning designs.  

The physical tools provided valuable opportunities for experiential learning. The cardboard boxes, Lego, and Kapla proved hugely engaging for the learners.  

As well as allowing them to get ‘hands-on,’ teachers saw examples of learners developing important skills around creativity, leadership and resilience.  

The school found that a combination of tools (symbolic, physical and digital) proved most effective. It led them to consider ways in which they could enhance learners’ creativity and the freedom and confidence to combine skills.  

The headteacher felt that learning space design was beginning to transform the school culture, with teachers and learners thinking of and looking at spaces in new ways.  

The school has put in place a strategy for all classes to start engaging with the tools and learning space design. That strategy applies to both adapting places and creating new ones. The aim is to create a shared understanding of learning space design in practice.


Murrayburn’s teachers were keen to explore the learning outcomes of studying spatial design. They wanted to see how they could enhance and enrich learning to develop important skills for the future.  

They began by discussing with learners their views on learning spaces in the school using an assessment wheel.  

Learners engaged with symbolic tools and used them to identify an area of a space they wanted to re-design: the classroom wall.  

The symbolic tools were integrated into everyday classroom activities through lesson plans. This developed a common language for the learners to discuss learning. 


Teachers and learners explored how the symbolic tools could be used to help drive conversations about the learning that takes place in different spaces.  

Teachers identified how the symbols could be linked to life skills and employability. They also identified how external experts – interior designers from the local authority – could help with the design process.  

A Dragons’ Den-style event was set up, with learners pitching their design ideas for the classroom wall to an interior design expert from the local authority.  

The design process included learners working in groups, sketching out ideas and creating 3D models for discussion with the whole class. They then prepared to present their designs. 


During the COVID-19 lockdown, the symbolic tools’ learning typologies were used to continue discussions around learning, especially home learning environments.  

The learning typologies refer to different ‘types’ of learning fundamental to schooling. They provide symbols that signify different kinds of spaces like creativity, collaborative, and celebratory. 

The process helped develop leadership and presentation skills and gave insight into different jobs and employment. These were all mapped against experiences and outcomes.  

The school also carried out an end-of-term survey. Many learners mentioned the ‘cave activity,’ where they worked on creative tasks independently, was their favourite.  


Learners valued having their own language for different types of learning (for example, ‘collaborative’ and ‘experiential’).  

They also valued the opportunities their own language provided for independent learning and their own ‘safe space.’  

Teachers valued the ‘common language’ the symbols provided, as it facilitated links across different types of spaces in the school and different types of learning.  

The Dragons’ Den had a very positive impact, with the learners seeing their designs come to life and experiencing how they were listened to. Learner voice counts.  

The success of the toolkit and learning space design convinced the school to expand the project across its mainstream classes. It also persuaded it to investigate how it could be used in specialist learning environments.


Teachers at the school were exploring how to improve online learning experiences for learners, which took on extra significance during the COVID-19 lockdown.  

A survey of learners during the lockdown revealed that they were interested in opportunities to lead their own learning.  

The school was also looking to renovate a particular physical space in the school and wanted to explore how to involve learners.  

For several years staff had also been exploring how to use shared learning across different spaces, connecting different sites through different technologies.  

This led to a focus on two strands: physical shared spaces and online learning-space connectivity. 


Learners and teachers set up a series of workshops and used the symbolic tools for discussing their learning environments. They explored the design and impact of not only physical and online environments, but also social spaces.  

Learners used the symbolic tools to begin creating their own designs. And they employed digital tools such as Autocad Revit to further develop them. 

The learners then worked with college students to revise their designs and present their ideas to the local authority.  

Meanwhile, another learner group led a series of shared, online learning events in conversation with student teachers.  

During these events, learners presented to student teachers how they liked to be taught and challenged them to respond with some mini lessons. 


The teachers and learners examined how the toolkit values linked to their own school values. They then selected their own principles for learning space design.  

In developing space designs the learners acted as ‘responsible activists,’ working collaboratively and developing important life skills.  

They linked up with college students to further develop their designs, using feedback and discussion. The learners’ presentations allowed them to engage in conversation around further education and careers. This aligned with the school’s Developing the Young Workforce priorities. 

Likewise, the group of learners using the shared learning space were able to interact and take ownership of their learning spaces. This helped develop confidence and leadership skills in line with the school’s status as a Digital Centre of Excellence. 


Learners commented on how the experience boosted their confidence and allowed them to develop leadership skills and take ownership of their learning.  

Teachers recognised how in a time of uncertainty and disruption with the pandemic, taking control and design learning spaces had increased resilience. This came through the development of new skills and strategies to deal with change.  

The school committed to widening opportunities for learners to engage in shared learning. It also committed to provide more platforms for learners to design their own learning environments.


When Craigbank Primary School was planning renovation works in 2017, it chose to co-create settings that focused on wellbeing. It saw this as a way to help children manage stress, feel safe and ready to learn.  

An important part of the Readiness for Learning programme is about placing children at the heart of designing learning spaces. Here they can shape them into places in which they feel comfortable and supported. 

We helped Craigbank’s teachers and learners identify priorities for their school with a particular focus on wellbeing. 


Through a series of meetings, workshops and a space hack, teachers and learners identified a need for: 

  • a mobile library and quiet corner 
  • presentation and exhibition spaces 
  • a breaktime area and social area 
  • group work and storytelling spaces 
  • creative storage solutions where specialist resources are grouped centrally 

By testing out different settings, three issues emerged:  

  • A need for a range of small-scale social spaces 
  • A need for cosy dens, nooks, personal spaces and quiet spaces 
  • Learners’ desire for a wider range of seating options – from sitting at desks to lying on mats 


Once the school’s renovations were complete, teachers started to see how redesigning the library “had completely transformed the way that literacy was looked at in the school”.  

Re-designing the building changed the way it was used, transforming the school’s teaching practice. 

Open plan spaces enabled teachers to fully engage in collaboration and share their skillset with other teachers and learners. 


Re-imagining the settings for wellbeing and learning helped teachers set up the R4L programme. The process led to a sense of collective ownership.  

The new open-plan layout, created by the learners, is quieter and supports the learners’ voice and choice.  

Overall, this project not only enabled teachers to engage in more collaboration and change their approach to teaching. It also enabled learners to engage in investigative work.  

They looked for inspiration from recently designed learning spaces and then communicated renovation plans to the wider school community.

“If you get the opportunity to engage in the Tests of Change process, take it. You see the learners taking on the leadership opportunity. You see the critical-thinking and creativity skills coming to fruition. I felt so proud of the young people.”

Clydebank High School teacher

Learn more

Download the full version for the curriculum’s ‘experiences and outcomes’ that the learners met, quotes from the teachers and learners involved, and images from the six schools.

Shared Learning Spaces research team

The Shared Learning Spaces research team is based at Moray House School of Education and Sport at University of Edinburgh. It is led by Professor Do Coyle and research co-ordinator Ramone Al Bishawi. It was set up in 2018.  

The team carries out innovative, cross-sector research. It connects and shares learning spaces across classrooms in schools and universities. 

We commissioned the team to undertake research and develop these case studies based on our Tests of Change projects.

Header image credit: Architecture and Design Scotland

Our work in learning estates

In addition to Tests of Change, we help with design proposals for learning estates across Scotland. We do this by sharing our knowledge, co-ordinating advice, and supporting local authorities.

Learn more