Measure What Matters

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to student experience, says Herman Miller

Current State

The quality of the overall student experience is becoming increasingly important as students are perceived more as customers. A positive student experience is looked at strategically as a corporate goal of higher education institutions in today’s competitive climate.

Students expect more today from their higher education experience than ever before. This overall experience includes factors from learning outcomes to wellbeing and workplace readiness. As a result of higher tuition fees and consumer culture, many students have adopted a customer mindset.

In a 2019 survey of UK university leadership conducted by Forward Thinking Inc, participants claimed that “students’ needs and expectations have changed dramatically since 2012 when the current tuition fee system was introduced. The expectation now is that students should be looked after and cared for by the university”.

Data from global education statistics agencies show first year students choose not to return to university for a second year at rates of between 6-25%. Reasons for this range from wellbeing issues to depersonalised learning environments and financial challenges.

Facility managers and real estate professionals are continually asked to optimise costs, yet studies show that typical individual and group spaces on campus are often unoccupied and underutilised. Pedagogical and design changes are therefore being tried and tested on campuses to better the student experience, and improve on the 36% of students who reject a university on their view of its campus estate.

With major sector investment in campus real estate being seen across the globe as a response to many of these challenges, the pressure on campus design and its impact on student experience is high.

What Matters?

As higher education institutions begin to measure the impact of design on students, various methodologies and resources such as the UCISA Learning Spaces Toolkit and the Educause ELI rating system have been developed to support their planning processes.

“What matters” in the process of designing for the student experience will vary. A consideration is to refocus away from set space standards and to define key pedagogical and student experience goals. Experimenting with how design impacts these goals is imperative to success.

As Sir Ken Robinson states, a key aim for education planners is “to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

Five key elements of student experience form the platform for evaluating what good design can do to influence these elements on campus. These are ‘Basic Needs’, ‘Sense of Belonging’, ‘Learning Outcomes’, ‘Workplace Readiness’ and ‘Sense of Ownership’. For many institutions learning outcomes are the main factors to measure when redesigning spaces and pedagogies which we draw our attention to now.

Case Study

From autumn 2015 to spring 2017, Herman Miller partnered with six higher education institutions to examine how classroom spaces influence student engagement. Pilot learning spaces were evaluated pre- and post-occupancy, and four key elements were measured through surveys, observations and interviews. These were ‘Learning Engagement and Productivity’, ‘Peer and Social Engagement’, ‘Diverse Learning Styles and Perspectives’ and ‘Use of Space’.

Increased satisfaction in students’ learning experience, improving the ability to memorise course content and supporting productivity are a few of the key drivers concluded to inform the impact of space on the student experience. Furthermore, classrooms and flipped pedagogy activity are now spilling into social spaces, therefore allowing learning to happen anywhere. The assessment of student engagement and space design moving forward should be tested both within and outside the traditional four walls of the classroom.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ definition for a successful student experience. Whether your strategic goals centre around wellbeing, workplace readiness or student sense of ownership, through constant experimentation in campus design your estate can play an important role in enhancing the unique student experience on your campus.


To find out more about Herman Miller’s higher education research search for: hermanmiller.co.uk/education

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