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Herman Miller, Inc., and the Society for College and University Planning Reveal New Trends Affecting Higher Education Learning Spaces


Student expectations surpassed technology as the number one factor driving new needs for higher education learning spaces, according to higher education planning professionals in a March 2008 survey. Initiated in 2006 by Herman Miller’s Education Solutions team, the biennial survey was developed to identify key trends that may influence higher education learning space planning.

The results of both surveys will be the focus of a presentation led by Jeff Vredevoogd, Herman Miller’s Education Solutions lead, at the 2008 SCUP conference in Montreal, Quebec, July 19-23, 2008.

Costs ranked as the number one factor driving new needs for learning spaces in 2006 at 48 percent, yet it only garnered 10 percent of responses in 2008. Student expectations rose to 37 percent from 9 percent in 2006, while technology rose to 22 percent from 7 percent.

According to Vredevoogd, this is not surprising. “Space continues to play a critical role in decision making for potential students as well as faculty. As a result, higher education leadership is realizing the need to invest both in refreshing existing spaces and adding new facilities on campus.”

This confirms a 2006 study released by the Council of Higher Education Management Associations that identifies “insufficient facilities” among the top threats to the success of higher education.

“Costs will always be a consideration,” notes Vredevoogd. “But leaders in higher education are recognizing that learning spaces play an important role in helping to meet their overall objectives of attracting and retaining students and faculty, and providing them the best possible experience.”

The survey also finds that the most valuable aspect of effective learning spaces is the support of student and faculty engagement. This response reflects an increase to 59 percent from 29 percent in 2006.

“Today’s student demands more from a learning institution,” says Vredevoogd. “It’s more than a matter of connecting with the course content, it’s becoming more important for the student to engage in discussions with faculty and other students, inside and outside the classroom.”

Phyllis Grummon, Ph.D., director of Planning and Education for SCUP, believes this also is a response to the increase of collaboration in the office. “Employers are recognizing the benefits of teamwork and its role in problem solving and innovation. They expect graduates to collaborate and learn from others.”

Supporting student and faculty engagement presents a challenge to higher education institutions, since enrollment is projected to reach a new high each year from 15.6 million students in 2008 and 17 million in 2017.

“The need for postsecondary education will continue to place demands on our campuses,” says Grummon, who stresses the need for flexible, adaptable spaces and furnishings. “Flexible spaces allow multiple activities to occur at the same time, all focusing on the course content. They allow students to experiment with a variety of space configurations that suit them best.”

Similarly, support for different learning styles remains the most important consideration for physical learning spaces, as noted by 43 percent of the respondents, followed by student interaction, which garnered 21 percent of responses.

In addition, the survey also reveals that the most important measure of effective learning spaces will be those that adapt to support varied pedagogy, which reflects an increase to 56 percent from 14 percent in 2006.

“Every faculty member knows there are challenges in accommodating a variety of learning styles,” explains Grummon. “Flexible spaces, however, adapt to a variety of scenarios and may enable and enhance learning in the classroom.”
Other highlights from the 2008 survey include:

Suggestions for higher education presidents:
The most prevalent advice from respondents offered to higher education presidents includes: spaces should be designed with the uses in mind from the students’ perspective; buildings should house flexible, inspiring spaces, 24-hours a day to match students’ study habits and needs; and continually maintain buildings and make annual improvements to the entire learning environment.

Characteristics of effective learning spaces:
Vredevoogd insists that space should enable learning, rather than forcing learning to conform to a space. This belief is evident in the suggestions provided by respondents who envision effective learning spaces to include rooms that are technology enabled, innovative and wireless; natural lighting using several windows; comfortable, moveable, flexible, and functional furniture that may be reconfigured easily; smaller classrooms that foster discussion and interaction and flexible for faculty to move around in during the lecture; space for students to work in groups; and a focus on building and sustaining community, while supporting the diverse needs of students.

Characteristics of ineffective learning spaces:
Factors that contribute to insufficient learning spaces, according to the respondents, include: limited or no technology; tablet arm desk chairs with no adequate space for working; poor lighting; no windows; no temperature control; lecture halls with no interaction; and fixed, uncomfortable seating.

Most respondents prefer to design and build flexible, optimal learning spaces, but are constrained by lack of funds, rising enrollments, and limited support from faculty accustomed to more traditional classroom designs.

Adds Grummon: “Students are clear that they prefer spaces that allow them to work with peers and build relationships that support and sustain learning.”

For survey results, contact

The 2008 SCUP Web-based survey was conducted between March 24, 2008, and May 2, 2008. It is based on the previous survey conducted by Herman Miller, Inc., for the 2006 Campus of the Future conference, sponsored by SCUP, the National Association of College and University Business Officers, and APPA, also known as the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers. Additional questions and possible answers were added to the survey.

Announcements about the availability of the survey were included in a variety of SCUP electronic newsletters, e-mail lists, and personal contacts. The average number of respondents per question was 121.

Seventy-five percent of respondents represent higher education directors, vice presidents, managers, provosts, principals, presidents, facility planners, and 10 percent includes those from other professional roles. Fifteen percent of respondents include architects and designers.

Survey respondents average approximately six years in their present position and 13 years in higher education planning. The majority of the respondents represent four-year, public institutions that enroll 15,000-24,999 students a year.


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