Limitless Learning

Creating Adaptable Environments to Support a Changing Campus

Some things never seem to change on the college campus. At least on the outside. Except for the ever-present smart phone, the view of today’s university looks remarkably similar to that of a generation ago or even longer.

But a closer look finds a transformation is well underway. A peek into the buildings reveals a very different picture than that of a decade or two ago. What is so different? And more specifically, how does this affect the planning function?

Contrasts, Collisions and Clashes on Campus

Entering higher education today is walking into a world of collisions. Contrasting cultures converge both in the classroom and across campus. Learning and teaching styles can be worlds apart. Multi-tasking students, who grew up in a digital world and have an inherent ability to share and collaborate, contrast strongly with tenured professors on campuses where the time-honored approach of lectures and individual assignments prevails and technology is limited to PowerPoint slides. At the same time, though many classes are still taught in a conventional lecture hall format, some of the most traditional institutions have embraced online learning with gusto, expanding their reach internationally while establishing new profit centers.

Generational clashes arise among faculty members. Professors who are Baby Boomers or older often have a very different mindset about formality (scheduled office hours) and space requirements (private offices preferred) than younger faculty who are as “portable” as their mobile devices and as informal as their students.

Perhaps the cultural collisions are most evident in the physical structures on campus where stately Georgian or Beaux Arts buildings are situated alongside newly constructed multi-purpose facilities designed and built for 21st century living and learning. Soaring ceilings and extensive glass create an airy atmosphere where learning studios have replaced traditional classrooms, and wide open spaces are quickly and easily reconfigured to create hubs of learning, quiet study, meeting, socializing or snacking.

Ironically, on the same campuses where state-of-the-art research takes place, a slow-to-change culture often prevails. Yet somehow, amidst these deeply contrasting factors, coalescence frequently emerges to reshape higher education.

First, a closer look at the goals of higher education today, the forces behind them and how they ultimately play out on campus. Second, identification of a singular objective emerging to shape higher education. Finally, a look at how design and planning can address the challenge of today’s trends and the future needs of a changing population and landscape.