Designing new learning environments at the ETH Library


  • Eva-Christina Edinger ETH-Library



One of, if not the most important factor of successful student learning is self-directed learning, either individually or with peers. Students spend a lot of hours beside their lectures with searching for literature, reading, working on a group project, preparing for assessments or writing a thesis. For all these learning activities suitable learning spaces are required.   

 At ETH there is a twofold lack of learning spaces in two respects: First, there are not sufficient learning spaces in general and second, the existing places seldom match the students’ needs. ETH-Library is going to develop a new set of services to students, combined with a great variety of learning spaces. These new learning spaces are planned as learning environments, extending over different learning situations, such as learning individually, learning in groups or conducting a project in a team.

 At the beginning of our designing process we had to reflect our service design: How do students learn and how can ETH-Library promote them? In this paper, I will trace our designing process, starting from the analysis of learning situations in the meaning of use cases, proceeding with service clusters, which ETH-Library can provide to support students in these situations. The service clusters were transferred into spatial scenarios, where the mentioned services can take place. These scenarios can be used as a model kit: Depending on disciplines and needs of the target groups they can be combined with several library spaces.

 The empirical database for the analysis originates in a qualitative comparative case study (2008–2014)[1] and was supplemented in the following years on several occasions, such as site visits, interviews, and design thinking workshops. From this comprehensive triangulative database, the initial use cases of learning situations were generated[2].  They are characterised by five dimensions: social setting (individual vs. collaborative learning), context of planning (spontaneously vs. planned), duration, type of learning (organisation/information vs. reception vs. expression), and local dependence.

Based on the learning situations ETH-Library started to develop service clusters – combining existing and new services – to support students in their learning processes in the best possible ways. To ensure both, a good variation of services and a good fit to the different departments and disciplines at ETH, we invited delegates from our target groups and experts from several administrative departments at ETH to participate in this designing process. Up to now we are still in the planning phase, but we want to share some of our findings and our work in progress. The three-step-process from use cases via service clusters to spatial scenarios may work as a role model for other people and institutions who provide learning spaces for students.

This is not a research article but a work in progress report. It is a description of our practical approach which aims to develop new learning environments at ETH-Library within an appropriate period of time.

[1] Edinger 2015.

[2] First presented here: Edinger 2019.