Designing 21st Century Classrooms

October 12, 2011

As technology and online universities continue to disrupt education, a new Herman Miller study examines the role of the physical environment in learning. The results of the longitudinal Learning Spaces Research ProgramSM (LSRP) highlight an emerging space - the learning studio - which is driving collaborative learning in 21st century education.

Learning studios overcome the rigidity of traditional classrooms with flexible, moveable design that supports diverse learning and teaching methods. Findings released last night at the Transforming Education conference at Purdue University suggest these holistic environments could improve the learning experience for students and faculty by as much as 18 percent over traditional classrooms.

"Despite new innovations in technology and virtual learning, the physical space still plays an important role in education. Yet, traditional classrooms haven't always kept pace with the massive change occurring on today's campuses," said Tracy Fouchea, LSRP program manager at Herman Miller. "The goal of this program is to support new learning approaches, while conducting ongoing research to measure the impact of these spaces."

Since 2007, Herman Miller has collaborated with academic institutions through the LSRP initiative to study higher education learning from the perspective of students and faculty. Spanning more than 25 campuses, the program was built on the concept of the learning studio. The learning studio is designed with every tool at the ready: access to white boards, furniture that moves easily to accommodate group arrangements, holistic aesthetics, and flexible technical elements.

"Learning studios are set up to make it easier for students and professors to connect, which ultimately results in a better experience for everyone," said Fouchea.

From Concept to Collaboration

Over the course of each pilot, Herman Miller worked with partner institutions to measure and gather results about how each space was being used. Focusing on twelve of the participating pilot schools and nearly 3,000 participants, the study showed that the primary effect of the learning studio implementation was an 18 percent increase in students who felt positively about their environment. Additional key findings from the research include:

  • Encouraged Engagement: Students were more comfortable asking questions in the learning studios compared to the traditional classrooms, and felt more confident when giving presentations

  • Post-Freshman Fatigue: While most first year students reported "not minding" or "liking" the classroom, by the time students reached the second year of their studies, they were burnt out and "disliked" classrooms, preferring learning studios for their formal instruction

  • Progressive Teaching Methods: Instructors working in learning studios strayed away from more traditional methods like lectures in favor of group work, collaboration and demonstrations

  • Corporate Culture: The learning studio transforms the classroom into a "workplace" that mirrors real office space, offering students another level of preparation for the professional world

"The findings indicate that both students and faculty prefer learning studios, and that there are tangible benefits for the entire higher education community in shifting toward spaces that are flexible, collaborative and enable technology," added Fouchea.

The Learning Spaces Research Program allows partner institutions to pilot the design concept on a small scale and perfect the solution before committing to a broad campus-wide rollout. These institutions can see the data - a key factor determining future opportunities.

For a more in-depth review of the findings, please contact herman_miller_education@hermanmiller.com.

About Herman Miller Inc.
Herman Miller works for a better world around you—with inventive designs, technologies and related services that improve the human experience wherever people work, heal, learn, and live. Its curiosity, ingenuity, and design excellence create award-winning products and services, resulting in more than $1.6 billion in revenue in fiscal 2011. Innovative business practices and a commitment to social responsibility have also established Herman Miller as a recognized global company. In 2011, Herman Miller again received the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation's top rating in its annual Corporate Equality Index and was also cited by FORTUNE as the "Most Admired" company in the contract furniture industry. Herman Miller trades on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol MLHR.