Stuart Wesselby, principal of Tresham College of Further and Higher Education, discusses the need for education facilities to mirror the commercial world if they are to be successful in engaging working adults in career development training.
Ask any intelligent but under qualified employee what prevented them from staying on at school and the chances are that they'll tell you that school was boring, they felt unmotivated, uninspired and had grown tired of facing the front and listening to the teacher.
For those of us who work in education, those comments are all too familiar and the reality is that you cannot gain knowledge or develop skills without some degree of listening and effort to learn. However, times have changed. Technology has enabled learning to become more interactive, more collaborative and more tailored to the needs of the individual. All great news for both students and teaching staff. But now we also need to create learning spaces that are tailored to maximise the value of all that new technology, with college design that's geared towards developing both practical and academic skills in a student-focused, flexible way.
As the employer-responsive arm of Tresham, 'Evolve' is charged with providing learning and training opportunities tailored to meet the needs of those learners already in the workplace and their employers. The culture we need to provide to do that must be centred around developing skills and enabling career progression rather than simply sending people 'back to school'.
To support that culture, providers like Tresham must create an environment that mirrors a commercial world setting, which means facilitating flexible learning styles within the 'classroom' and providing workplace-based settings for study, knowledge sharing and socialising outside of the formal learning space.
Flexible Learning Environments
While many of our younger adult learners are already familiar with interactive whiteboards in the classroom, many colleges are not designed to accommodate individualised online resources in the classroom, the use of personal laptops and tablets or the need to share documents and resources virtually across a number of users.
The school-style computer lab restricts the use of space, so colleges must put flexibility at the heart of classroom design, with an electrical and data installation that enables a commercial world style 'hot desking' approach.
To achieve this, bench desking and directional screens that can be custom-positioned to accommodate collaborative working are key components of classroom design, along with plentiful power sockets, charger points and internet access, preferably through site-wide Wi-Fi.
Of course, not all learning is paper or PC-based and space flexibility is also essential to maximise the multi-use requirements that vocational learning environments must provide. Furniture should never be fixed and should be designed to enable easy reconfiguration to meet a number of learning styles and applications, with dedicated workshop areas also provided on site for practical vocational courses and skills training.
At Tresham we have just received planning consent for the redevelopment of our third campus at Wellingborough, having already completed new build projects at our Corby and Kettering campuses in Northamptonshire. With courses as diverse as Construction, Engineering and Art & Design on offer, the building has been designed with spaces for hands-on skills development as well traditional 'classroom' areas.
It's also essential to consider the importance of informal learning and social spaces in campus design, and this should be factored into both outdoor and indoor areas. The break out spaces that have become de rigueur in office developments are also a critical component in college design as they provide a place for social interaction and independent study.
These areas should provide a mix of seating, opportunities to use and charge electronic devices and the kind of lifestyle facilities, such as coffee shops and onsite gyms, that make the college a pleasant rather than simply a necessary place to return to.
A 'pleasant' environment theme should also be central to the external campus design, along with practical considerations such as ease of orientation and availability of secure bicycle parks. For the employee attending college to fulfill an employer's expectations or further their career goals, college is an extension of the workplace rather than an alternative route into work and the physical environment must reflect that.
Stuart Wesselby is principal of Tresham College of Further and Higher Education