Learn By Design

Learn by Design elevates groundbreaking work in the design of physical learning environments and how it impacts pedagogy and learning outcomes.

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Photo by Steven Snow.

Photo by Steven Snow.

About the Learn by Design Competition


The Learn by Design competition celebrates the collaboration of designers and educators in the pursuit of design-based solutions to challenges within education. The competition showcases projects focused on the design of physical space and the potential it has to improve learning outcomes.

Featured projects include, but are not limited to, learning spaces in support of early learning, K-12, higher education, and informal learning (museums, libraries, community spaces, etc.).

Entry Process Overview

Important Dates

Monday, June 25:
Application Opens
EXTENDED to Sunday, November 11:
Application Closes

Eligibility Requirements

The SXSW EDU Learn by Design competition is open to projects and design solutions that enhance physical learning environments for students at every age. Qualified projects will be considered in the following areas including, but not limited to learning spaces in support of early learning, K-12, higher education, and informal learning (museums, libraries, community spaces, etc.). Please note that both designers and educators are encouraged to apply.

Selection Criteria

The evaluation of each application, conducted by the SXSW EDU Learn by Design Advisory Board committee as well as the SXSW EDU staff, is based on the following criteria:

  1. Innovative: How original is this project or idea?
  2. Accessible: Is this a design that could be used by a diverse group of learners?
  3. Effective: How impactful and efficient is this design in an educational space?
  4. Practical: Is this design feasible within a learning space? Would it detract or improve current pedagogical environments?
  5. Impact: What is the potential of this project to improve learning outcomes?

Application Instructions

edu-2019-research-graphicSTEP 1 Research

Before beginning the application, determine if your project is the right fit for the competition by reviewing the eligibility requirements, FAQ, and the list of past finalists.

edu-2019-laptop-graphicSTEP 2 Online Application

Begin your application by clicking Start Application below. Please note there is a $45 application fee associated with the SXSW EDU Learn by Design application. Once you begin your application you can save your work and come back at a later time to finish and submit by the deadline.

To submit your application you must create a free universal SXSW account. You may do this at the beginning of your application or it will prompt you once you are saving your information or submitting your application.

edu-2019-checklist-graphicSTEP 3 Review

Review your application and save any pertinent information one last time before you hit submit! After submitting your application you will not be able to edit or review the information.

STEP 4 Submit

Once you have completed the application and agreed to all of the terms and conditions, you are ready to submit!

Learn by Design FAQ

For frequently asked questions and answers about the competition, please review the Learn by Design FAQ.



Lydia Dobyns

Lydia Dobyns

President & CEO, New Tech Network

Lydia Dobyns is the President and CEO of New Tech Network, a leading design partner for comprehensive school change. The non-profit network is comprised of more than 200 K-12 schools in 28 states. Now in its 18th year partnering with districts, our foundational belief is that schools get better by being part of a community, and that school networks can help solve the most complex challenges facing communities today. Dobyns is co-author of Better Together: How to Leverage School Networks For Smarter Personalized and Project Based Learning. Her career features work in the education, tech, online services, consumer, and health care industries. She graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley.

Marc Chun

Program Officer, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation

Marc Chun wrote lots of tuition checks, wrote a column for the school newspaper, wrote a doctoral dissertation, wrote checks home to Mom to keep paying all those tuition checks, wrote curricula when he was teaching sociology, wrote research papers and reports, wrote plays that were produced in NY and LA and Hong Kong, and writes checks as a grant-maker at a charitable foundation. Most recently, he wrote this bio.





2019 Learn by Design finalists, Waukee Innovation & Learning Center (WILC).
Waukee Innovation & Learning Center (WILC) – Cannon Design
Waukee, IA
With the nation experiencing rising costs in post-secondary education, as well as ever-evolving changes in employment opportunities, there is a growing opportunity to create programs and facilities that introduce entrepreneurial education earlier through PK-12 intuitions. Waukee Innovation & Learning Center (WILC) in Waukee, IA. WILC joins educational curriculum with business acumen all under one roof.

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium Robert B. Daugherty Education Center
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium Robert B. Daugherty Education Center – DLR Group
Omaha, NE
Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s Education Building offers a space for students to connect with the natural world through “adventure education”. Offering full-time high school, kindergarten, and preschool classes, the education building exemplifies the zoo’s education mission to enhance the public knowledge in all areas relating to the natural world.

Seoul Foreign School, New High School
Seoul Foreign School, New High School – Ennead Architects
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul Foreign School New High School is a beautiful and efficient machine for contemporary learning, rooted in its context while shaped by international best practices. Ultimately, the design sets a new standard not only for future phases of development at Seoul Foreign School, but throughout Korea and beyond.

LabVenture, Gulf of Maine Research Institute
LabVenture – Gulf of Maine Research Institute
Portland, ME
Neither an exhibit nor a classroom, LabVenture blends technology, live marine species, and tools of science to adress design challenges requiring integration of content, learning experience, and architecture. As students investigate warming ocean temperatures and their impact on both key species and fishermen, they come to see they are working on authentic problems that science hasn’t yet solved.

Spero Academy
Spero Academy – HDR Architecture
Minneapolis, MN
While open to all, Spero Academy K-6 charter school specializes in creating programs that benefit students with various disabilities. Designed to reduce environmental and sensory barriers and facilitate learning and fun, Spero is a safe and calming place for every student—allowing them to experience the type of accomplishment that many take for granted.

Code Next Lab
Code Next Lab – Kurani
Oakland, CA
At Code Next Lab, 8-12 graders from Oakland take hands-on courses in math, science, and technology taught by Google engineers. The space assures students they belong in Tech by highlighting scientists of color, increases the appeal of computer science professions, builds student confidence, and gets students in a maker mindset.

Project Lemonaid – University of Kansas
Lawrence, KS
Project Lemonaid is a transdisciplinary design project uses the “The Lemonaid Mobile” as a physical learning space with a cheerful and gamified atmosphere to connect mental health services and professionals with at-risk university students. The project aims to educate and motivate students with mental illness and substance abuse to get the appropriate mental health services.

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Learn by Design History

Learn more about the history of the Learn by Design competition and browse a full list of past design finalists, winners, and judges.

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Learn by Design Schedule

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