Why do we continue to use 20th Century spaces for 21st Century learning/working?

The classroom is a relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution, which required a large workforce with very basic skills. Classroom-based education lags far behind when measured against its ability to deliver the creative and agile workforce that the 21st century demands. This quote is from Prakash Nair in a commentary in Education Week*.

In an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, #Ross Gittins wrote:

Invest in the children of the knowledge revolution… The knowledge economy is about highly educated and skilled workers selling the fruits of their knowledge to other Australians and people overseas. It covers all the professions and para-professions: medicine, teaching, research, law, accounting, engineering, architecture, design, computing, consulting and management.

Significant thinking has been undertaken in the design of workplaces that contribute to the knowledge economy and creating spaces where people want to come and where they enjoy working. An article³ in the Idea Watch section of Harvard Business Review this month poses the question: 

What are the costs of using 20th Century spaces to do 21st Century knowledge work?

And the answer given:

Lost productivity, higher capital expenses and inaccessible managers.

What if we asked the same question in the education sector? The answers could be: Lost learning, higher capital expenses, lower quality relationships and perhaps most importantly, a learning/working environment and culture that is irrelevant for the world our young people will enter.

What can the education sector learn from the corporate sector?

Pharmaceutical company Lilly looked at the problem of addressing the costs of 20thC spaces by redesigning 40,000sqm of space for more than 3,300 employees.

Some interesting findings from this project:

Most offices cluster workers together by department, but modern work requires inter-departmental communication, so people resort to e-mail and meetings.

Workers lose 66 minutes a day in inefficiencies, hassles and distractions and spend only 35% of their time at their desk

So what happened?

Lilly reduced the amount of assigned space and increased the amount of temporary unassigned space. New spaces weren’t generic, but designed for different kinds of work

  • Quiet focus rooms for high concentration tasks
  • Cafes and team rooms for collaboration
  • Enclaves for private conversations

Lilly found that the open plan promoted ad hoc communication, which stimulated creativity.

From a bottom line perspective:

  • Worker satisfaction doubled
  • Associated capital costs almost halved
  • Time lost by distractions, waiting, looking for meeting rooms decreased by 16%

Here are the stats:

Workplace created a stimulating atmosphere: Before – 18% and After – 45%

Workplace was an attractive aspect of the job: Before – 21% and After – 58%

Furniture cost per employee: Before – $9,100 and After – $4,900

Capital costs per employee: Before – $34,000 and After – $18,000

Hours lost per year to noise: Before – 32 and After – 22

Total square metre per employee: Before – 20 and After – 15

So next time the bean-counters question the ideas of knocking down walls, buying sofas and creating collaborative spaces show them the stats.

Be inspired and view the slideshow: http://hbr.org/web/slideshows/wish-you-worked-here/1-slide

*The classroom is obsolete: It’s time for something new. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/07/29/37nair.h30.html?tkn=XNXFDFcvWWLDmV03sm8U7i6nllsZj5Ko4SLX&cmp=ENL-EU-VIEWS1

# Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/invest-in-children-of-knowledge-revolution-20110830-1jk02.html#ixzz1WY60CnUj

³ High Performance Office Space by Andrew Laing, David Craig and Alex White. HBR, Sept 2011

4 thoughts on “Why do we continue to use 20th Century spaces for 21st Century learning/working?

  1. Nice work joining the dots Anne. Education sector can learn a lot (in this case at least) from the corporate world. The drivers are more pressing.

    Try walking some “old school” educators through contemporary office space. When we did this through CEFPI a while back the reactions were remarkable – in a good way.


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