What Types of Learning Spaces Should We Design for our Students?

With reference to this blog written for City, University of London, now more pertinent, from earlier in the year – https://blogs.city.ac.uk/learningatcity/2020/01/13/what-type-of-learning-spaces-should-we-design-for-our-students/#.XqqzXy-ZPOQ

It seems obvious to say that with the current Covid-19 crisis, higher education is facing an enormous challenge in how to respond to the situation and how to adapt to an uncertain future. One strategic approach is to think about what is important for the learning and development of our students and then decide how best to deliver that experience. Perhaps a mixed mode of delivery, with a combination of online delivery and interaction blended with on-campus activities that may one day be possible, with whatever restrictions are set in place. Universities will need to rethink how students learn, in what environment and importantly providing an equitable experience. Hopefully the days of large group teaching in tightly packed lecture theatres are over! Who knows? This pandemic is forcing a change in the sector which will hopefully lead to creative solutions that protect the health and well-being of students and staff while somehow balancing the financial imperatives of higher education.

There will more posts to discuss this soon.

‘Do we need new places for learning?’

I joined a webinar last month from Steelcase in Germany which was thought provoking and slightly comforting in that it confirmed we are all in the same perplexing situation about what our university will look like in the future. But this is short post on the key points discussed.

The short answer is yes. But how that manifests itself will be puzzled about for some time as universities struggle with the complexity and enormity of potential shifts in how HEI’s operate. The session was delivered by two academics and an architect in Germany and staged by Steelcase, an International furniture company. A paper has been published here, with a forward describing the 4 C’s, mentioned here before, as essential attributes for students in the 21st Century; Collaboration, Critical thinking, Creativity and Communication Skills.

Right now, we are experiencing unprecedented changes in our lives and at university. The webinar took the views of three panellists on the response of higher education to the Covid-19 crisis which I thought had some aspects that are relevant to highlight here for our own thoughts and planning.

Do you think that we still need a physical campus as we know it?

Prof. Ulrich Weinberg Director School of Design Thinking at Hasso-Plattner-Institute, Potsdam, was clear, he said that we have to create a new environment, but we shouldn’t have lecture theatres anymore as an outdated model of the last century, we do need large spaces but not for lectures. We need labs. to meet and test things out, generate ideas, the same as in the digital space as well as for face to face. So we should ask ourselves, what is really necessary after this crisis?

Werner Frosch, Partner & Managing Director Munich, Architect agreed, it is easy to substitute lecture theatres, universities should change their models to work in groups, to reflect on webinar learnings, as we all learn by discussing, we develop our own thoughts by talking in groups.

“We also have to foster the social spaces in universities, in the cities where you can meet and interact physically as human beings. You do not need the 200 seats auditorium anymore where 250 people want to sit in. They can all join virtually, very comfortably from a laptop from home.”

Judith Hojer, Network Manager at University of Coburg, agreed that informality was the future, we should think new, why doesn’t a space look like a living room? We should ask ourselves, can we do this more informally?

What are the skills needed for the future?

A key skill Judith believe that all of us should have is empathy, not so easy to develop in a digital environment. Especially as we have different problems with working at home, such as having children around, who might jump into view as a hologram in that room.

Ulrich responded by stating that breaking education down into little pieces with a common silo mentality from schools is not a holistic view. What our education system should focus on is to encourage students to be aware of what their talents are. What are your skills? What do you want to achieve? What can you improve? These were key findings for the last 13 years according to Ulrich, universities should rethink their models towards more contemplation, more creative teamwork and less individual competition.

Werner summarised his answer using what I call the F-word, but in the right context, flexibility of spaces is the key, [perhaps the idea of long-life loose fit here?] virtual tools need to adapt and improve, it is irritating if you cant see others on the conference call, so we must still provide spaces for human interaction, but with a shift to more social spaces, where people feel comfortable for what Universities provide on campus.

This post has been published here at City, University of London.

The Psychology of Collaboration, seminar by Herman Miller

The Psychology of Collaboration, presented by Bertie van Wyk, based on a paper by Dr. Nigel Oseland back in 2017

Bertie van Wyk [BVW] is a workplace specialist, a communicator on human work insights, across Europe and USA.
Twitter hashtags – @bertievw  @hminsightgroup
If you're a morning person, by 4pm your brain capacity is the same as if you have had 4 units of alcohol.
For an afternoon person, it feel like this in the morning!
So consider that big meeting, schedule it so that morning and evening people can cope.
According to the Leesman Index, 57% of people think that in the office they are productive
Busy is not good, “busy is for losers” according to Bertie [BVW] we can spend up to 42% of our time on email.
However, brainstorming and collaboration adds 35% to the value of our work, but we spend only 7% of our time doing this.
We need to understand the dynamics of interaction versus collaboration. Interaction leads to trust, therefore building trust leads to greater collaboration.

Personality Theories

BVW referred to personality theories, especially by Myers Briggs and Eysenck, with his super traits; sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic.
Including the three topical personality trates of Extroverts, introverts, neurotics
Reference to the Big 5 theory of Ocean, http://www.outofservice/bigfive
– All effect how we interact.


– Heterogenous teams perform better than homogenous ones. They challenge each other but develop more unique effective and creative solutions
– Homogenous groups more cohesive but prone to groupthink.

Virtual teams – Videoconferencing

Virtual collaboration, can be difficult!
85% of communication is non verbal. Social connection is so important according to research, so is good coffee.
Interesting statistic that 40% of workers will be freelance by 2020, according to Accenture.
Virtual teams perform worse with little social exchange that inhibits relationships, trust and performance.
Due to reduced communication, tacit knowledge and information display.
Advice – With technology, the camera should be at the same height and frame size, so that people feel equal.
Issue with noise interference of Skype conference calls in the office, problem for work colleagues who can’t help but listen in to conversation.
We are instinctively tune into other people’s one sided conversations.


Arousal theory, illustrated by the inverted U shape, extroverts have low level of arousal, stimulus, need excitement to lead to higher productivity.
The more complex the task, the quieter the environment needed. Low key.
BVW paused to refer to Susan Cain, author of key work call “The Quiet”
See her video, from Ted talk
This awareness must be taken into account for the design for a variety of spaces, with different zones; just see who many staff use headphones…
Consideration – Environmental psychology, brief reference to the Osmond categories;
Osmond (1957) differentiated the environmental settings in two distinct categories — the sociopetal and the sociofugal settings
Consideration – Evolutionary psychology, ref. http://bit.ly/2wPkssT
We have evolved for survival and wellbeing
Daylight, ref. to an unnamed USA study which demonstrated that a person with a window view at work will naturally sleep for 46 mins more per night!
Creative Commons CC0
So our exposure to daylight will impact on our sleeping pattern.
Ref. briefly to Well being, especially good air quality, and Biophilic deign.
BVW stated that we don’t take enough breaks, unrefined statistic that the most effective people work for 52 mins with 17′ break.
Breakout spaces, HM ‘cove’,
70% collaboration happens at the workstation.
This is a terrible statistic, its too noisy, distracting and disruptive for colleagues in the office.
Herman Miller provide solution called the Annex, create a warm up and cool down space, ideally a meeting space for introverts.