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Setting up an open learning centre


I am currently responsible for setting up a small open learning centre (about 7 or 8 workstations) for staff use within a large University. Users will be able to do self-paced learning activities using online and paper-based materials or seek advice on specific IT applications from experienced trainers who will staff the centre. I would be particularly interested to get information and advice on what to take into consideration when planning the physical environment (we currently have an empty room!) and how to attract users in.
Caroline Norris

3 Responses

  1. Brain Juices
    The above company specialise in creating learning environments for you.

    I dont have contact details here but if you email [email protected] he has their contact details.

  2. Hmmm – think outside the box !
    Firstly, if your target audience already has access to on-line & paper-based training materials (and these are perceived as “not working”) then does that tell you anything about the suitability of the existing materials and their delivery ?

    On a more positive note, one way to get people out of their offices / departments is to give them a very good reason to make the effort. You might look at providing a “techno kitchen” environment : a well-stocked fridge, funky furniture, a pool table (or some sort of unique game), the best coffee on campus … appeal to the baser instincts and you will get an audience. Once a few people have told their colleagues “I went to the techno-kitchen today – it was great”, then you will be up and running. You may find that the “learners” will like being there so much that they volunteer to act as “teachers” later on !

  3. Keep it informal if you can…
    Hi Caroline,

    From experience, keeping the environment and atmosphere as informal, relaxed and friendly as possible are all key elements. Probabaly the most important thing is not ‘what’ but ‘who’ you have in your OLC. Somebody who is friendly, knowledgeable and approachable is crucial. If possible try to keep the door open (not often practical I know) to make it more inviting for people to enter.

    In answer to your question on the physical side: –

    Make sure you can keep the room cool, especially if its small – 8 workstations with monitors etc will probably throw out around 1Kw of heat throughtout the day, so if the room is small and full of people also generating heat etc…

    Arrange the workstations so that they aren’t all in serried rows if you can, using partitrions etc to give people privacy and the ability to ignore whats going on around them. Cloth covered partitions will also give you slightly better accoustics.

    Make sure people have space to put their books etc and take notes, so reasonably sized desks is really important.

    If you can, paint the walls a relaxing and imformal colour – I understand pastels are ‘in’ at the moment. Probably anything that’s different to the rest of the university would be good though…

    Pictures on the walls – preferably not of the university though, maybe sundrenched beaches or mountain vistas (perhaps a local travel agent would donate some…).

    Most OLC’s seem to get used for informal coaching sessions, impromptu meetings and so on as well as self study, so if you have a big enough room, set aside a ‘quiet’ area for small meetings discussions etc. I used to have small groups of couches for people to use which seemed to go down very well. People using PCs can also use them to take a break and sit on something different for a while. Obviously you would need to be very conscious of noise levels though, so take care if you do this and make sure you have enough partitions to reduce the noise.

    Lastly and my personal favourite – potted plants, real if possible, but plastic is probabl more practical. Aim for a jungle and you’ll probably get it about right. Also filtered water on tap and perhaps coffee as somebody else mentioned. Make it as enticing for people as you can and you’ll get a much better response.

    Good luck!


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