This is the second main sub-question to answer ‘Is the learn/work environment adding value?’ An effective learn/work environment is not automatically good.
Effectiveness is a process value, about how good the processes are in producing and sustaining something but it does not say anything about the desirability of the output or the user experience and Engagement.
Optimizing the effectiveness of the core function of the learn/work environment, education, research and valorisation, is about purpose, context and content. This is primarily based on an educational vision and the way in which it is structured in a didactic and organisational manner.
Secondly, the educational process is supported by the quality of the learn/work environment in which this process takes place. The environment has an effect on the productivity of teachers and the learning outcomes of students. What does productivity means for brain work? A disbalance between stress and recovery affects our ability to handle workloads and do quality work in the long term. The accommodation should support the organisation and people to thrive in a knowledge institution rather than a teaching factory. The main objectives of accommodation are:
- Protection of people and goods against the climate.
- Facilitate the processes of the users.
- Protection of property against theft, damage and loss.
- A physical place for people to meet, interact and connect because digital contact does not replace human contact.
- Give identity a shape. And sometimes just for beauty alone.
Changes in teaching and learning styles are inescapable, therefore buildings should be designed to invite adaptation to stay functional and pleasant to be in. A building is never perfect and finished, for that reason, it should be constantly aligned to the speed and changing needs of the user. There are 8 layers of change.
The built environment is a starting point, a base for almost all human endeavour. A place for shelter, to create and manifest, to rest and recharge, to feel safe, to live and work with close ones or like-minded people. The built environment is so a crucial base for human activity all over the world. How can it serve better?
The learn/work environment should support the used teaching and learning theory. If the organisational and educational goals are objectively defined and translated into the required and desired performance of the learn/work environment (accommodation roadmap), it increases opportunities and limits risks to meet the objectives.
It helps to approach the learn/work environment in an integral way by the Real Estate, Facility Management, IT and HR departments and to keep in touch with each other to utilize or confront new insights, for example by changes in the primary process, technological possibilities or external developments.
To add value to the organisation, the intended benefits of the learn/work environment must be weighed against the costs, risks and time associated with initiating, implementing and exploiting them. The functional state of a building must meet the desired user options and be able to accommodate changes to the curriculum within a reasonable margin.
The policy goals defined in the accommodation roadmap thus become practical guidelines for daily management and promote a learning organisation with a focus on continuous improvement. Consequences for the learn/work environment due to changing levels of ambition as a result of other policy insights and/or external developments can thus be earlier mapped, discussed and weighed up in full.
“Places that work are process-oriented and have a people-centred approach.
They are an enabler for adding value.” (René Stevens)
- SCOPE/STRATEGY: What exactly is the desired outcome (performance requirements: how good and how many, where, when, for whom and how often)?
- QUALITY : How close matches the outcome with the objectives and expectations (Functional, Esthetics, Technical)?
 Quality is understood to mean: geographical location, floor area and functional, aesthetic and technical performance of the accommodation. Quality and quantity are actually two sides of the same coin. This is e.g. shown in the trend towards less floor area that is more intensively used but with more quality (fit for purpose).
The faculty departments should provide in their annual budgeting an indication of the expected number of students, the supporting number of (non) teaching staff and the required mix of functions for their educational activities and their ideas about space use. The forecast of the number of students to expect is mostly an educated guess. Besides the faculty departments, it requires the input of several other stakeholders like the Finance, Marketing and Human Resource departments to come to a balanced estimate of the numbers.
This provides the essential quantitative basis to calculate the space demand and to allocate the existing physical and digital space accordingly. The involved relevant stakeholders should also agree upon an extrapolation of the forecast into the near (1-5 years) and longer (5-10 years) future. This provides the Real Estate, Facility Management and IT departments with data to use for their planning of refurbishments, renovations, new constructions and repurposing, letting or divestment of surplus buildings.
They should also be timely informed about ambitions concerning the opening of branches or mergers with other higher education institutions because real estate matters need a long preparation time and have long-lasting financial consequences.
Buildings are solidified policies from the past. When teaching and learning approaches evolve, a building is difficult to ‘liquify’ again to support the contemporary educational process. Regularly aligning accommodation strategy with the organisation’s policy and informing them beforehand about the consequences for the learn/work environment of (changed) policy, makes well-informed decision making and timely anticipation possible.
For higher education institutions the primary business process is providing (academic) education, conducting (fundamental) scientific research and translating this knowledge into relevant social applications (valorisation).
The learn/work environment is usually an undermanaged business resource. Revenues from better performance of the primary business process often exceed those of efficiency measures in the secondary business processes like Real estate, Facilities and IT.
- The primary process. (desirability of education)
- Health, well-being and consciousness of the users.
- Expression of identity.
- Being timely adaptive to changing user needs.
Regular performance reviews of the learn/work environment as a tool for managing knowledge are required to ensure continuous improvement and a learning organisation.
By breaking the question ‘Is the learn/work environment adding value?’ up into chunks it becomes more manageable. To answer it, four main sub-questions must be addressed. But be aware that Engagement, Effectiveness, Efficiency and Evidence are not ends in themselves but means to an end. Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable. Go for the good of the whole.