Open Space Learning event

The concept is discussed at length in a book authored by Nicholas Monk, Carol Chilington-Rutter, Jonothan Neelands and Jonathan Heron.

The dissemination conference on 27 June 2011 included both theoretical and practical elements. The book authors provided the background drawing on theories of pedagogy (Augusto Boal, Paulo Freire, Howard Gardner and David A Kolb), sociology (e.g. Stuart Hall, Fernando Ortiz), performance (the concept of the ensemble) and the ‘trans’ (for example, transgressive, transcultural, transdisciplinary, transcendent, etc.).

OSL is challenging for all. Tutors have to accept that in this situation they are there to be ‘dethroned’ of their knowledge; i.e. students discover their tutors do not have all of the knowledge in the room. Criticially, the interaction in creative spaces involving play renders the learning experience both memorable (students remember the sessions) and memorisable, in that the content is also captured.

Rehearsal Room

The learning spaces themselves are interesting. The University of Brighton’s and Sussex’s inQubate creativity centres came from the same conceptual space. Warwick elected – by virtue of their proximity to, and collaboration with – the Royal Shakespeare Company, to create a rehearsal room and a studio space (pictured). No desks.



The ensemble of students at the heart of the method, in some cases, act out roles. For example, first year chemistry students acted out elements in the periodic table, capturing their properties and those of the elements next to them in the table (see notes below). This built up a rapid knowledge about both elements and the table. As a foundation for, and complementarity to, more traditional chemistry teaching, it certainly seemed to capture the imaginations of both students and professors.

Jonathan Heron

Jonathan Heron

There are a number of dependencies. This trial had the skills of a very talented facilitator, Jonathan Heron. Be under no illusions, he is a rare resource. Secondly, ‘lead learners’ acted as conduits and evaluators. Naturally, they were self-selected and all very keen and evangelical about the method. Students are known to be sceptical of activities that do not carry grades. Lead learners, therefore, carry the metaphorical torch for an alternative experience that potentially does more than enhance the learning experience.

The team’s technical lead, Robert O’Toole, has integrated a platform called Evernote. The platform enables the uploading of content relating to events immediately. In the session, content was being generated throughout by users with iPads and other mobile devices. Evernote is demonstrated here:

My notes from the event are here: OSL

1 comment so far

  1. Susan Brock on

    I declare myself as a member of the Open-space Learning team at the University of Warwick which organised this event which marked the end of a project, funded for two years by the Higher Education Academy, for a project called Open-space Learning in Real World Contexts. This is what we said we would do:

    Open Space Learning (OSL) in Real World Contexts brings together two Warwick National Teaching Fellows, Jonothan Neelands and Robert O’Toole, to develop and embed new forms of creative pedagogy associated with workshop practice and collaborative learning in flexible teaching spaces. This interdisciplinary project provides for students, teachers and support staff the space and means to act in and on the world using enactive and experiential learning, applied drama, role play and ethnodrama. It will create a sustainable ensemble of student performers and a training route for practitioners to deliver OSL. It will offer support, consultancy and training in OSL techniques for academics and support staff wishing to embed enactive modes of learning in professional practice. It will carry out evidence- based research to create technology platforms for mobile, blended and research-led OSL; to identify workable assessment methodologies, and will test the efficacy of OSL, measure its impact and disseminate its findings to the HE sector.

    We think we have achieved this and our summative web site will soon be available at In the meantime you will find our work in progress there. We hope we’ve made a vaulable contribution to the debate about excellence in teaching and the student experience and thank Andrew for his balanced account of the OSL concept and the event.

    Susan Brock, Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning, University of Warwick

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