Principles and standards for designing teaching and learning spaces

Documentation for building effective teaching and learning spaces on our campuses.



The National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE) is a respected indicator of student engagement used by over 1450 universities across North America. Their Engagement Indicator themes and High-Impact Practices (2013) are based upon extensive educational research. The indicators and practices have been adopted at McGill University as five principles to be considered when designing or renovating classroom spaces to support student learning. This permits the university to ground decisions about classroom features in research-based principles.

McGill also references the Learning Space Rating System, which provides a set of measurable criteria to assess how well the design of classrooms support and enable active learning.

The Principles for Designing Teaching and Learning Spaces (disponible également en français) consider the classroom environment within the context of what is known about students’ learning. These Principles are then translated into specific design features to guide design decisions, such that learning spaces become a physical manifestation of the university’s teaching and learning vision.


The Classroom Standards Working Group was mandated by the Teaching and Learning Spaces Working Group (TLSWG) to develop Classroom standards and guidelines. This document includes:

  1. Principled guidelines for room design, construction and/or renovation of formal learning spaces, and
  2. Descriptions of formal learning spaces to aid in room selection for specific teaching and learning needs.

These standards are based on the teaching and learning literature, as well as on best practices at peer institutions. The standards facilitate consistent design of our teaching and learning spaces as well as instructor support in classrooms across the University, ultimately leading to more consistent teaching and learning environments. Recommendations are focused on feature requirements, guidelines and procedures. Please email tls [at] with any questions.

The classroom standards are complemented by (and may guide) other existing technical standards from Facilities, IT and the Office for Students with Disabilities, including Facilities’ detailed design standards and OSD’s Universal Design.


Finkelstein, A., Ferris, J., Weston, C., & Winer, L. (2016). Research-informed principles for (re)designing teaching and learning spaces. Journal of Learning Spaces, 5(1).

Abstract: Designing physical learning environments that connect to indicators of effective educational practice reflects a university’s pedagogical commitment to student success. This article describes an approach to teaching and learning space design based on research-informed pedagogical principles implemented successfully at our university. It then articulates how those principles can be translated into classroom design features, with examples. These principles have had an operational and conceptual impact on campus, providing a framework for diverse audiences to think about spaces in a way that reflects shared goals, language, and values.



While this web page is accessible worldwide, McGill University is on land which has served and continues to serve as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. Teaching and Learning Services acknowledges and thanks the diverse Indigenous peoples whose footsteps mark this territory on which peoples of the world now gather. This land acknowledgement is shared as a starting point to provide context for further learning and action.

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