The term learning lab refers to a location in a school, such as a classroom or dedicated section of the library, where students can go to receive academic support, or to the programs school create that deliver academic support. While learning labs take a wide variety of forms from school to school, and they may be known by a wide variety of names (including unique, homegrown names), the strategy tends to share a few common attributes from place to place:
- Learning labs are typically offered during the school day, but in some cases they may be offered before the regular school day starts or after it ends (for a related discussion, see expanded learning time).
- Learning labs are often open to any student who wants additional instructional assistance in a specific subject area or help with a particular assignment or project, but in some schools students may be required to attend a learning lab to receive help with an identified learning need—such as persistent difficulties in a math course, for example.
- Learning labs may have dedicated staff members and support specialists, such as educators who are trained in literacy instruction (i.e., how to teach students to read and write more effectively). In other cases, teachers may be assigned to learning labs on a rotating basis, and students may go to a learning lab on a specific day to receive help in a particular subject area, such as math, science, or social studies.
- Learning labs may provide academic assistance in all subject areas, or they may provide intensive support in a specialized academic area—perhaps the two most common forms of dedicated learning labs are math labs and literacy labs.
- Learning labs are often used to support special-education students or students with identified learning disabilities. In these cases, learning labs will supplement or augment the students’ regular academic courses—i.e., the students receive more instructional time in specific academic disciplines or more intensive academic assistance on course-related work—with the goal of helping these students keep pace with their peers or meet expected learning standards.
- Learning labs may be entirely optional and voluntary in some schools, while in others they may be intentionally integrated into a school’s academic program. For example, a school may believe that all students can benefit from additional academic support, and it may choose to replace traditional study-hall periods with learning labs. In this case, all or most students will be enrolled in some form of learning lab, where they receive academic assistance or where they work on school projects under the guidance of teachers and staff members. The general goal of this approach would be to replace unstructured class periods (study halls) with more structured instructional periods (learning labs) that utilize available school time more purposefully and productively. For a related discussion, see academic acceleration.
- Learning labs may be more common in the upper grades—i.e., high school and middle school—where students move from class to class and teacher to teacher throughout the school day. Yet elementary schools may also use support strategies similar to learning labs.
While learning labs are less likely to be a source of debate outside of schools, they may become the object of debates within schools for reasons that will vary from place to place. For example, teachers and staff members may question whether learning labs are the best way to allocate limited school resources—primarily teachers and school time. In these cases, some may argue that learning labs are not the best way to utilize experienced classroom teachers, who should be teaching courses in their subject area, not providing tutoring to students or helping students in subjects that are outside of their particular expertise. In other cases, learning labs may replace school time that teachers had used for other purposes—for example, preparation periods that allowed teachers to get their own work done so they didn’t have to do as much planning and preparation for classes on their personal time. In addition, learning labs may also become a source of debate if they are poorly designed and supervised, if they complicate school and staff schedules, or if they fail to produce the desired improvements in student achievement.
The Glossary of Education Reform by Great Schools Partnership is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.