The case for space on campus

Strategies to make the most of existing learning space

Campus leaders are increasingly confronted with transformation—from students acting as consumers to universities acting more like businesses to the rapid evolution of faculty.

Yet perhaps the most prominent change is the proliferation of technology-based learning methods. Online courses have created a new world of education—one where learning can occur anytime and anywhere.

While technology is clearly changing and improving the face of education, engagement between students and faculty—the key ingredient for successful learning—is rooted on campus. This sets the stage for the importance of physical spaces in education.

Learning spaces are not limited to classrooms alone. Informal spaces, residence halls, libraries and hubs are all places where students and faculty can collaborate effectively. But not all spaces are created equal.

A recent study indicates improper learning-environment design can negatively impact a student’s progress by as much as 25 percent.

Campus leadership should consider the following guidelines before they make any design changes to their colleges or universities:

Change for change’s sake is not always the right approach. Before making any change, start by asking why the change is needed. This question becomes especially relevant as technology and space intersect. All too often, we see campuses viewing technology as the solution instead of recognizing that it’s part of a design plan or support system.

Multipoint projection, tablets and videoconferencing and other technological tools empower faculty and students to extend discovery beyond the walls of the classroom or boundaries of the campus. But outfitting a space with the latest, greatest gadgets doesn’t automatically make it more effective when it comes to learning. Focus on desired outcomes and objectives, with content and pedagogy top of mind. Then technology will support the desired learning experience.

Flexibility is king. Today’s learners encompass a diverse range of ages, strengths and goals, with more learning options available than ever before. The role of faculty is also progressing significantly—and directly influencing the future of learning. Professors are going beyond office hours to engage more regularly with students. In addition, while faculty’s training and input have always been valued, they are now essential in making these innovations successful.

As these key campus stakeholders continue to break traditional norms, they need learning spaces capable of doing the same. Learning studios can foster engagement to ensure long-term success, satisfaction and retention. These spaces can be rearranged to support interactive teaching methods, from small group collaborations to role-plays.

Unlike a lecture hall, a learning studio environment “untethers” faculty from the front of the room, allowing them to actively engage one-on-one with students who may otherwise be hesitant to ask questions.

Adaptable learning studios are more than just resourceful: Through research conducted over the last seven years, we’ve found an 18 percent increase in student satisfaction when learning studios are compared to traditional classrooms.

You can still create impact on a budget. In light of today’s budget pressures and fiscal realities, understand that new approaches to space do not always mean a complete design overhaul and the investment that often accompanies it.

Using existing furniture and technology, schools can work within current spaces to better understand the pedagogy and end-user needs in learning spaces. Also, learning space programs allow campus leaders to conduct ongoing experimentation guided by feedback from those who learn and teach in the space.

These types of programs can inform long-term, bigger impact design plans to be implemented when more funding becomes available. They also serve as a demonstration that leadership is being fiscally responsible by testing new ideas on a smaller scale before implementing change across campus.

Finally, experiential efforts can help leadership tell its story about where it wants to take the learning experience on campus, which helps build support for these changes and, sometimes, entices donor support. By having a clear understanding of the end goal, campus leaders not only will be able to create spaces that

increase student and faculty success today, they’ll create spaces that can adapt to what the future of learning may bring.

Jeff Vredevoogd, director of Herman Miller Education, leads the firm’s efforts to expand the understanding of evolving learning trends in higher education environments.


Most Popular