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Two drivers of change in learning environments

Thursday, 5 November 2009

As a participant in Herman Miller’s Spring 2009 Higher Education Leadership Roundtable, I found the opportunity to sit and talk with thought leaders across the spectrum of higher education to be highly stimulating.

We spent two days discussing scenarios for learning that had been developed in 2005 and summarized in Herman Miller’s Outlook for Learning white paper – which ones were still valid, which ones had not come to pass, which ones were we still waiting for? In spite of the overarching theme of today’s economic realities, we still believed that every challenge presents an opportunity – and that higher education leaders are the ones who need to capitalize on these opportunities.

Of the twelve topics we discussed, the ones of greatest interest to me were the expectation to increase learning per square foot, and the notion that students will take more and more control of their own learning.

The first issue is one near and dear to my heart as a space and campus planner. Far too much energy is expended on measuring classroom utilization even though classrooms are a relatively small percentage of any college campus, and we all know that learning takes place everywhere, not just in the classroom; some may argue that less learning happens in the classroom than elsewhere. The challenge today is to create spaces at a variety of scales, formality, technology, etc., throughout the campus; places that bring students and faculty together to focus on collaborative learning. Focusing on classrooms, to me, seems to be missing the point. The entire campus is a learning space, or can be, and must be treated as such.

As for the second issue, as students take more control of their own learning outcomes, the role of the faculty member will become redefined. No longer ‘sage on a stage’, no longer dispenser of wisdom and advice, faculty must be willing to become co-conspirators with students, guiding them through the wealth of options offered by our connected world.


Annie Newman

White paper – Outlook for Learning

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