Much like a worn-in pair of jeans, people often have a comfort level with familiar, traditional spaces – perhaps none more so than the classroom.
The smell of chalk, the sight of tab-armed desks and a professor’s lectern can jog memories of a favorite class, time spent passing notes or mastering a challenging subject. But what if the classroom could do more to outfit students for the working world by giving students a competitive advantage?
As colleges and universities seek to provide resources for the career-focused and tech-savvy Millennial generation on campus today, they are reexamining the impact of the physical environment on learning.
Furniture design manufacturer Herman Miller has partnered with numerous schools as part of its Learning Spaces Research Program (LSRP), exploring forward-thinking ways to design spaces that support 21st century students. The result of its extensive research and data collection is a new classroom model called the learning studio.
These spaces feature flexible layouts with furniture that can be easily rearranged, offer easy access to technology and include collaborative workspaces that boost engagement. In many ways, learning studio elements echo office settings, thus helping support the real-world skill development necessary for the eventual transition to corporate life.
Presentation Preparation: Finding a Voice
The professional world is filled with opportunities to present – a reality that often sparks anxiety among those who fear public speaking. When learning environments foster group discussion and encourage presentations, students are able to practice these skills with peers long before they’ll be required to do so with clients. Classrooms can support this goal with furnishings and technology that easily accommodate roundtable conversations and opportunities for students to showcase their ideas.
Data reflects a measurable gain in student comfort and confidence when presenting in front of a group in learning studio environments like these, and students themselves reportedly felt more relaxed and comfortable presenting in the learning studios over traditional classrooms.
Strong presentation and articulate critical thinking skills are paramount for post-graduate success. By removing boundaries between students and faculty, students are empowered to debate and defend their positions with professors, much the way they’ll eventually do with a boss or manager. Breaking down barriers to technology should be viewed as an enabling factor, serving as a sail to power student presentations and drive learning, not an anchor weighing them down.
Collaboration and Engagement: Key Professional Behaviors
In all realms of life, social, collaborative spaces keep minds, voices and projects moving, while stimulating, engaging spaces draw people in and spark creative thinking. Collaboration and engagement are major contributors to success in the classroom and in the office. 64% of participants found high-quality, student-faculty engagement to be the hallmark of an effective learning space.
According to an old saying, “you can go to college and get a degree, or you can get engaged and get an education.” This is no different from the expectations of tomorrow’s workforce, that can go to work and do a job, or get engaged and be a successful worker that cares about colleagues, clients and making a difference. Clearly, making collaboration and engagement a habit for students in the classroom pays off in the workplace.
Learning environments should recognize the importance of collaboration and make it a priority. Rooms should be configured with students facing one another to promote interactive learning, and include maneuverable furnishings that support breaking into small groups for projects and discussion. And when appropriate, instructors should be empowered to clear the decks – stacking and storing furniture elements when not needed or not in use in favor of open space.
According to the research, only 48% of participants felt that traditional classrooms were effective for group work, whereas learning studios were found to support group work by 86% of participants – a substantial 38 percent increase.
Inspiration Goes Both Ways: Corporate Learning Environments
According to Eliot Masie, chairman and chief learning officer for The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium, the most unique thing about the human species is our capacity for life-long learning. As students for life, the line blurs between formalized classroom settings and learning in the real world.
”Educators must build bridges among higher education, K-12 and corporate learning,” Masie says.
Higher education institutions share a common goal to prepare students for the future and their own individual tomorrows, whatever they may be. Classrooms and learning spaces that remain locked in the past reinforce old practices. In a rapidly changing education and corporate landscape, it will be spaces that drive change and allow for collaboration, engagement, technology and flexibility that will prepare the future workforce to thrive after graduation and beyond.
Jeff Vredevoogd is Director, Herman Miller Education, and Tracy Fouchea LSRP Program Manager.