Learning and development professionals put a great deal of thought into how they strategically deliver learning through a range of methods. Not as much thought is put into how to utilize the classrooms and other physical settings in which learning is administered.
Neglecting the potential of a learning space is, simply put, a waste of space. And learning professionals in the corporate world can seek design tips from those organizations with the most classrooms around — higher education institutions.
Working with higher education and corporate learning spaces are “one in the same,” said Tracy Fouchea, leader for the learning spaces pilot research program at Herman Miller, an office furnishing company.
“What universities are uncovering and what they’re testing [in their learning spaces] are also the same issues and trends that corporate learning leaders are wrestling with and trying to integrate into their own organizations,” Fouchea said, adding that schools are joining corporations in trying to understand what kind of technology to put into learning spaces.
“Universities are trying to figure out how these spaces can be multi-use so that 24-7 they can get the most use out of these spaces,” Fouchea said. “Corporations are asking the same things of themselves.”
Learning is happening in both formal and informal manners in both companies and universities.
“Learning is happening anywhere,” Fouchea said. “That’s the same for companies and that’s the same for universities. Students have tools to plug in and connect in ways they haven’t before. Those blurring of lines where people can work anywhere — you can work at the coffee bar — [mean] there’s so many places to be plugged in. Think about informal and formal learning and ways that the physical space can support that.”
When it comes to evaluating a space, one must think of what is being delivered and what is needed in that space. Another thing to keep in mind, Fouchea said, is if the space is meant for large or small groups and can be supportive of social interaction. Can learners look at each other and the learning facilitator eye-to-eye?
“To be able to learn and take away meaning, we have to be able to often collaborate, clarify and understand so that we can actually have that ‘a-ha!’ or learning moment,” Fouchea said. “The social piece is really key.”
Fouchea said when she is evaluating a space, she looks at not only the environment but the lighting, the overall quality of the air and the ergonomic experience for the learners if they’re using a laptop or other technology. “How are they going to be seated in there all day long?” Fouchea asked.
The ability to meet the need of any user in the space is also to be considered.
“If you think about corporate learning spaces, some of them may be used only for formal learning or when they’re not being used for formal learning, it’s first come, first served or scheduled opportunities to use the space,” Fouchea said. “If you can make it so that it’s adaptable and multi-use, it can take on many other leads within an organization.”
A learning area must be adaptable, flexible, stimulating, even malleable to keep it engaging, Fouchea said. Being able to change the surrounding may help learners.
“Could we look at four different layouts that are on the wall that even the inside or outside facilitator can say, ‘Today I want to do small group in this particular layout,’” Fouchea said.
“A classroom is just part of the delivery,” Fouchea said. “When you think about all the different learning opportunities, it continues to be part of the offering. Having that classroom perform is invaluable. There will always be the online learning, the virtual learning, but there’s a role that the classroom has continued to play. If you think about the last five years, it’s been pretty consistent.”
Natalie Morera is an associate editor at Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at nmorera@CLOmedia.com.