Social Learning Spaces and Student Engagement

Kelly E. Matthews
Victoria Andrews
Peter Adams


Notable gains have been made in understanding the factors that influence the student experience in higher education, particularly in the area of student engagement. While tremendous effort has been focused on identifying educationally beneficial activities for students, we must also consider where these activities are occurring. In recent years there have been technological advances that have paved the way for blended learning environments, however, physical learning environments continue to dominate the functionality of many universities. The development of purpose?built informal social learning spaces as a strategy to enhance the student experience is becoming more prevalent, although empirical research in this area is lacking. This study explores the role of social learning spaces on the student experience using the student engagement framework within a qualitative research design. Informal interviews with 103 students were conducted within a social learning space. Findings reveal that social learning spaces can contribute to enhanced student engagement by fostering active learning, social interaction and belonging amongst tertiary students. The study also suggests that design is a contributing factor to students' perceptions of social learning spaces.


First-year experience, Higher education, Learning spaces, Student engagement, Transition


This qualitative study was part two of a research project looking at social learning spaces (SLS), physical places for peer interactions, outside of college in-class time. Results from the first study (quantitative) indicate that students who use informal SLS “report significantly higher levels of engagement” (p. 108) than students who do not. Results from this study suggests students using SLS “view each other as academic resources and seek each other out to discuss assignment ideas and get clarification around difficult concepts” (p. 111). This article is included in this annotated bibliography as SLS correlate with higher levels of engagement, and therefore how the benefits of SLS can be effectively replicated in online forums should be considered.

APA Citation

Matthews, K. E., Andrews, V., & Adams, P. (2011). Social learning spaces and student engagement. Higher Education Research & Development, 30(2), 105-120.

About the Study

Links to Article
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Higher Education Research & Development
Type of Research Qualitative
Research Design Interviews
Intervention/Areas of Study Active learning, Collaborative, group, or team-based learning, Engagement, Learning community, Student motivation, Student-student interactions
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined First-year students, Undergraduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest Bachelors-granting
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Arts and humanities, Formal sciences, Natural sciences, Social sciences, STEM
Outcome Variables of Interest Academic achievement or performance, including assessment scores and course grades, Learning effectiveness, Program effectiveness
Student Sample Size 100-199
Citing Articles,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en