Environments Of Higher Education

By: Arch4e | 3 Feb 2016


Today, tremendous social, economic and political pressure is pushing colleges to evolve. Information access and distribution is turning the research world upside down. These changes have yet to dramatically affect the college learning environment. Suggested changes in educational philosophy, however, forecast that college and university environment of the future will be very different. Training and educating people for the information age will require colleges to rethink the factory model of education. Not only are student enrollments projected to increase, colleges will also take on a more significant role in retraining individuals as they mature in their professions or consider new careers. Quick response to changes will require an environment which is much more flexible, decentralized and even less institutional.

Information technology is currently being used to extend the reach and efficiency of an outdated classroom-centered teacher-focused model of teaching. Only when teaching methodologies are really changed will major improvements result from technological advancements. This transition from autonomous, vertically structured educational institutions to globally networked learning organizations will be fostered by access to technology. When learners are virtually connected to resources, teachers and other students around the world, assemblage in a classroom or a lecture setting becomes much less important. The environment’s role needs to be redefined based upon the significant contributions it can make to students’ success.

Colleges and universities will no longer have a monopoly on higher education, leading education to become more competitive. Entrepreneurial entities, such as Disney, Whittle, and others, may decide to offer focused learning opportunities for students. Easy information access and short-term focused educational opportunities may expedite creation of satellite campuses in more commercial settings. Colleges of the future may be housed in commercial-like buildings which provide students with information access, resources and places to meet and collaborate with instructors and students. Many speculate that the current structure will be dramatically altered, providing instead courses tailored to students’ needs and skills development.

Since the founding of the first public junior college in Joliet, Illinois in 1901, the community college has experienced significant evolution. The community college maintains its primary purposes of providing students with a two-year academic preparatory program for transfer to a four-year institution while also providing

two-year career-oriented programs. Today, it has widened its focus by providing for specific community needs by offering truly tailored programs. Community college facilities need to be flexible and responsive enough to facilitate retraining of aerospace workers or fulfilling a serious shortage of dental hygienists. Vocational spaces should be adaptable to change as the needs of the community evolve.

The recent innovation of middle colleges found in Laguardia, New York; Costa Mesa, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania illustrate the benefits of closely-related high school and community college facilities. Educators suggest that by identifying at-risk students and making available strong vocational and academic programs, students will find their education much more meaningful. The unique challenge of incorporating these facilities for high school students amongst the college setting is daunting; however, by providing self-contained and easily accessible spaces, the best of both worlds can be developed. The visionary goal of cradle-to-grave education is happening today. In Yuma, Arizona cooperation between the elementary, high school, community college and local university campus provides K-20 educational opportunities that allow a student to go from kindergarten to a doctoral program on the same campus. The unique physical challenges of providing a safe, secure environment for students are worth the effort resulting in powerful cross-age educational opportunities.

Students of the future will be more diverse. Lifelong learning, extension and continuing education will be the model in the next century, resulting in tremendous demands on the educational system. The Society of College and University Planners “SCUP” suggests that the current 12 million equivalent full time students will grow to 20 million in the early 21st century. Using our existing education model, these learners would require an additional 672 campuses with the equivalent enrollment of 30,000 students each. At a cost of $350,000,000 for each campus, it would cost

$235 billion to build, and an additional $217 billion per year to operate. To meet the full potential demand by the year 2010, a new campus would have to be opened every eight days. If these projections are even close to being accurate, creative and innovative alternatives involving institutions, businesses and communities would need to be considered in order to meet these tremendous needs.


Learning Philosophy

As time becomes the valued commodity of the 21st century, individualized learning will take on new meaning and significance. “Time out for education” will be replaced by “just in time education,” whereby students, rather than fighting to get into special classes, will have the opportunity to schedule classes that fit into their schedules. Work and learning will be fused together, encouraging students to continually update their skills and abilities. The classroom of the future may be a series of small collaboratories, laboratories, lecture and technology areas, allowing students to meet, access information, and work on meaningful projects to acquire the skills necessary to improve and work effectively in the professional world.


Learning Styles

Multiple intelligence theory has significantly impacted K-12 education providing students with opportunities to learn utilizing their most effective learning styles resulting in significant opportunities for students to learn more effectively. In the future, college students will be able to select their most effective learning strategy and proceed accordingly. Hands-on learning experiences where students learn by doing are becoming much more the rule than the exception. Laboratories will be associated with most curricular areas, allowing students to work on projects in real life settings that meaningfully simulate the work they will perform in their careers.


Personalized Education

Each student will develop a personalized education plan tailored to the knowledge and skills needed. Technological access to information, teachers and other students will facilitate this significant change in educational delivery strategy. Many suggest that point of access services allowing students to acquire and pay for services as needed, will be the curriculum plan of the future. This process will remove barriers to learning, opening access for students to a network of experts, allowing “just in time learning” on automated learning systems and unbundled learning experiences. The sequential exploration of basic to specific information, will be replaced by flexible access to the information when needed by students. Information networks will provide a tremendous opportunity for students to seek out others who share their passion in particular areas and make connections with appropriate teachers who will effectively facilitate their learning through technology, personal evaluation and electronic mail. The wonders of technological communication will allow students to make connections with experts around the world, giving feedback and analysis of student work. Buildings will need to be provided for students to access technological information, hear expert lectures, work together in small groups, and have the flexibility to be used by different groups at different times. While proper scheduling will minimize the need for additional facilities, those facilities will be designed to accommodate multiple activities. The hallmark of higher education in the future will be world class service, user friendliness, and the agenda for learning set by students rather than teachers.


The Information Age

For years, experts have been forecasting that technology would change the face of education. Today, experts are suggesting that education change or be left behind. Information technology is the key ingredient which will make feasible a distance-free learning network. Students will navigate and access the system through home, business and college based technology. Shelley once suggested that “The function of technology is to make space and give time.” Technology removes many of the barriers that restricted free access to education in the past, allowing students to select the most effective and easiest educational resources to access. This same network will allow alliances to develop between business and education. Information infrastructure will be the primary delivery mechanism for educational materials. People will demand world class service; only appropriately priced and relevant learning offerings will survive. Technology will be integrated within the environment. Gone will be the computer labs and sophisticated technologically oriented spaces. Computers will be dispersed throughout the learning environment, rather than having banks of computers in labs and library media centers. Technology will become more portable, allowing students to plug in their laptop computers, accessing information throughout the campus. As Shelley suggested, technology will distribute both time and space in which learning takes place and will be used to bring resources and people together. College will become a 24-hour setting, with facilities as small as a student’s desk to the large lecture hall for important gatherings. No longer will students have a singular instructor, their resources will include all faculty, research institutions, think tanks, and industry experts making themselves available for seminars, consultation, and problem-solving. The opportunities are limitless, made possible by a seamless integration of information resources.


Facility Implications

 The virtual university is a reality. Expansion of off-campus learners will continue. It won’t be unusual for a 30,000 student campus to have close to 100,000 students

off-campus accessing resources and information. Satellite campuses and storefront education will continue to make educational opportunities more accessible. Many state and local college systems are currently transforming their classrooms into networked electronic learning environments, facilitating animated faculty presentations, small group work and hands-on projects. Multimedia capabilities will become expected, allowing teachers to present information in a number of ways, selecting the most appropriate medium based upon student needs. “Collaboratories” will allow small groups of students, instructors and outside consultants to get together working on projects and issues, and providing access to distant learning opportunities. Some sophisticated settings will provide electronic means to facilitate problem-solving and group work through the use of electronic chalkboards and problem-solving software and presentation techniques.

Capacity for simulation-based learning opportunities will continue to grow. Not only will students be able to problem-solve, utilizing computers. Adaptable environments will be created, allowing students to mock-up potential educational challenges, experiments and make-believe settings, working with instructors to test ideas and expected results. The virtual classroom will allow students to find people with like interests working together with a small group of individuals who have similar passions and interests. Once formed, the group can then seek out the best instructors possessing expertise appropriate to their needs. Students and faculty members will be able to compare schedules finding mutually agreeable times to communicate and gather together for lecture, meeting and assessment.

Studio classes will be completely flexible settings allowing students to easily move from lecture, computer use, and laboratory. Colleges are currently using this model for science labs, providing flexibility, allowing students and instructors to quickly move from small group, lectures, computer access and laboratory experimentation. Each space can be much smaller since students will no longer work on the same activity at the same time.



Changes in teaching and learning strategies will result in development of new assessment and evaluation tools Students will start portfolios of their best work at a very early age. Documentation of quality work will be very important in the assessment of student achievement and needs for improvement. Projects will be primarily documented electronically. However, the necessity for students to be able to maintain hard copies of various projects will put new demands on the environment for storage of both ongoing and past projects. In addition, it will be very important to provide spaces for students to demonstrate their proficiency through completed projects. These spaces will include capability to display student work both two-dimensional and three-dimensional, and opportunities for presentations in both informal and formal settings. The incorporation of display systems and presentation areas will invigorate and personalize educational settings. Knowledge-based assessment and demonstrated mastery will diminish the importance of grades with assessment being based upon the value of student work completed. This transition will move colleges closer to professional standards, whereby work is evaluated according to its precision and value.


Library/Media Center

No other space on the college or university campus will change quite as dramatically as the library and media center. Some suggest that the university will be known for its collection of computers rather than its collection of books. As libraries identify that only a small percentage of a library’s collection circulates each year; only readily used books will be on display with others remotely stored in more economical facilities. Technology will be distributed throughout the entire library, allowing for easy access to collections, resources and information. Imitating open environments, reading rooms will become collaborative space allowing students to study or work together in small groups. Space will need to be easily adapted through the use of movable partitions and creative acoustical treatment. Libraries will also become a hub of campus life providing opportunities for collaboration, eating, relaxing, multimedia resources, display and community gallery space and other on-reserve resources. Student service and convenience will be a hallmark. Many facilities will provide adjacent child care facilities, and remote availability. Some libraries are even considering drive-through capabilities where students can order resources and pick them up when convenient.



This truly is an extraordinary time to be involved in the design of educational facilities. Some may feel that technology will reduce the importance of the environment and the college position as a citadel of higher education. Once we remove the boundaries of our present thinking, the opportunities to think about learning environments in new and different ways will allow tremendous potential for innovation and exploration. The future may not mirror our existing expectations, but certainly will result in more effective delivery of knowledge and service to students in the future.