Whether good WLAN, light rooms or flexible furnishings: modern teaching and learning concepts need an appropriate environment. Examples from higher education institutions (HEIs) in the Netherlands and in Norway show what learning environments of the future might look like. Whether – and how – a development of a learning environment can be transferred to the German higher education system is demonstrated in the latest issue of “DUZ – Magazin für Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft” in the series “DUZ Spotlight – Gute Praxis international”, published in cooperation with the CHE Centre for Higher Education.

In the current summer semester 2020, teaching is primarily being delivered online at German HEIs, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides highlighting the opportunities offered by digital learning platforms, this situation also reveals the limitations of virtual teaching and the importance of well-designed learning environments.

Examples include the use of modular furnishings or innovative lighting and colour concepts. A number of positive examples already exist, most notably several university libraries. “However, the issue of learning environment design does not yet play a role across all HEIs in Germany,” stated Anne Prill.

In the latest issue of DUZ Spotlight, the project manager at CHE’s Hochschulforum Digitalisierung (German Forum for Higher Education in the Digital Age) conveys an impression of how learning environment design can be rethought in the digital age.

Anne Prill believes that there is direct interplay between the learning environment and teaching: “If the facilities geared towards frontal teaching remain traditional, then university teaching remains traditional, too.”

The example of a faculty at Delft University of Technology shows how an entire university unit can implement a new learning environment concept. Flexible working is applied at the Dutch university’s Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment. This means that there is an absence of individual offices for teaching staff, traditional auditoriums and seminar rooms.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology is also eliminating centuries-old spatial borders in higher education. In their so-called learning arena, flexible furnishings and mobile equipment enable areas to be converted spontaneously into auditoriums, presentation rooms or working areas for concentrated work.

The examples show how different these international approaches are compared to in Germany. Whereas in this country HEIs often go about modernising single rooms or libraries, elsewhere learning environment design in the digital age is comprehended as a campus-wide strategic matter, according to Prill.

Frank Ziegele believes that such holistic strategies, which explicitly also encompass infrastructure and facilities, benefit all those involved: “Learning environments are an important distinguishing feature to enable a rather abstract teaching strategy and the importance of teaching at the relevant HEI to become visible, tangible and perceptible,” remarked the CHE Executive Director. “As such, not only prospective students, teaching staff and learners benefit from a well-designed learning environment concept, but also the entire university.”

The topic was addressed in the 08/2020 issue of DUZ on 21 August. The author Anne Prill is Project Manager for the Hochschulforum Digitalisierung (German Forum for Higher Education in the Digital Age) at the CHE Centre for Higher Education. The dossier is the sixth issue of the “DUZ Spotlight – Gute Praxis international” format developed collaboratively by CHE and duz, which is published every now and then in duz and at www.che.de.

Previous issues have explored the Austrian model of the lifelong student ID (09/17 issue), the British professional doctorate (01/18 issue), the Dutch University Teaching Qualification (08/18 issue), the transfer community based on the Swiss model (12/2018), the establishment of academic continuing education certificates in Switzerland (11/2019) and instructional designers in university operations (02/2020).

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