Designing Physical Environments with Purpose

The educator designs an effective physical environment for technology-enabled learning.
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About this Micro-credential

Key Method

The educator arranges furniture and space so students can easily transition from collaborative groups to direct instruction or individual work when using technology.

Method Components

Based on a teacher’s outcome for a lesson, they arrange the class layout by implementing learning clusters (also known as “pods”) and/or learning zones to support the blended learning model, in which students rotate through technology-assisted activities.

Teachers who design an effective physical environment for technology-enabled learning improve the ability to personalize learning through the 1-to-1 device program.


Educator designs clusters in the learning environment that promote interactive and social activities. Clusters allow students to work in small groups of two to six, interact directly, see facial expressions, and establish eye contact.

Cluster Examples:

  • Teacher arranges three to four desks with chairs together to form collaborative space.
  • Teacher uses large, rectangular, and/or high-top tables with chairs.
  • Teacher can move easily from group to group to ask questions and facilitate discussions.

Learning Zones

Educator designs an area in a classroom for students to work in collaborative groups while others work independently. Learning zones allow students to move freely to the area that is appropriate for the type of work they are doing. Teacher can move from one area to another to inquire about new or retained information from students.

Learning Zone Examples:

  • Teacher uses a variety of furniture such as couches and beanbags to make it more conducive to create and collaborate.
  • Teacher uses big tables, round or rectangular, to support collaborative group work.
  • Teacher uses standing desks at various heights
  • Teacher establishes a space to create a collaborative area for groups to meet and work.
  • Whiteboard walls could be a collaboration space for students

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

  • Pearlman, Bob. “Designing new learning environments to support 21st century skills.” 21st century skills: Rethinking how students learn (2010): 128-144.
  • U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Technology. (2014). Learning technology effectiveness. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 6, 235
  • Spires, H. A., Wiebe, E., Young, C. A., Hollebrands, K., & Lee, J. K. (2012). Toward a new learning ecology: Professional development for teachers in 1:1 learning environments. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 12(2), 235-236.


  • Innovation Starts in the Classroom: Part of aseries of case studies produced by Digital Promise examining the work of members in our League of Innovative Schools.
  • Smith System is a manufacturer of innovative products that make educational environments more healthy, comfortable and inspiring for students and educators.
  • Columbus Signature Academy (CSA) is part of the New Tech Network, a nationwide school reform model that includes over 90 schools.

Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

To earn the micro-credential, you must receive a passing evaluation for Parts 1 and 3, as well as a “Yes” for Part 2.

Part 1. Overview questions

(200-word limit for each question)

  • Using your choice of a technology device, what are your goals in ensuring the physical classroom environment will promote interaction among learners?
  • Based on collaborative learning spaces, is it essential to use technology devices for personalized learning?

Part 2. Evidence/artifacts

Please submit a sketch or a picture of your classroom layout (desk arrangement, learning spaces) and annotate the sketch or picture.

Suggested resources for this task include: Skitch/Evernote, Google Drawing, Apple Pages.

Example layout goal: Furniture and space in learner-centered classroom is arranged so students can easily transition from collaborative groups to direct instructions or to individual work.

Part 3. Reflection

(200-word limit)

  • Specifically, what measureable qualities of student learning were positively impacted by your creation of clusters and learning zones

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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