How Experiential Design Optimizes Post-COVID Hybrid Learning in Higher Education

How Experiential Design Optimizes Post-COVID Hybrid Learning in Higher Education

Last year, “Zoom University” enabled schools (and students) to survive but not thrive. Online college does not give us the tactile experience of “place.”

A recent PEW Research Center survey found: “Americans are skeptical this type of learning provides the same value as in-person instruction. Overall, 30% of adults say a course taken only online provides an equal educational value compared with a course taken in person in a classroom; 68% say it does not.

Parents and students define the “college experience” as an in-person, physical campus experience. College is a distinct economic offering filled with stories, energy and rituals. We purchase more than just education in exchange for tuition. We purchase moments, memories and customized experiences. No other product even comes close to delivering those benefits.

Education cannot thrive in the soulless digital landscape. Learning is a together activity. Humans are social creatures craving physical environments. Laptops are lonely ways to experience new things—especially education. We miss each other. We miss surrounding ourselves in places that define us, our values, our methods, our stories and our commitments. We need to chant, learn, question, explore, grow and laugh… TOGETHER.

There is no return to “normal”. Higher education has an opportunity to embrace both online AND face-to-face learning in a new elevated experience. This approach requires an investment in technology as well as smarter space planning and design. Experiential Design optimizes hybrid learning with a greater emphasis on the intentional in-person learning and gathering spaces of a university to offer optimal collaboration, socialization and inspiration.

Brick and mortar institutions have an opportunity to innovate and reimagine what a facility can do instead of what it has always done. Imagine a new landscape of spaces, places, programming and amenities that cannot be replicated virtually or at any other institution. An Experiential Designer is a strategic partner in campus planning to create signature environments unlike anyplace else.

New technology must form a romantic relationship with its surrounding architecture.

We communicate differently now than we did before COVID. Untethered, we are technically unafraid and need digital communications with a personal attachment. Even if learning is done online via laptop, no student wants to relive the isolation of working remotely from a dorm room. The hangout space is going to be critical for the success of higher education. Less structure creates more opportunities for cross-collaboration and pollination.
Experience Design is the missing factor that shapes these interactions to be intentional and prevent chaos. It’s what integrates technology seamlessly into these environments to transform the campus into a portal to global educational opportunities from the comfort of a lounge chair.

An Experience Design Consultant gives higher education a competitive edge.
Time well spent is time in an environment surrounded by story—whether that is a color story, texture story, visual story or digital story. The space of tomorrow is the space we linger in longer. After being isolated and remote during the pandemic, people crave being together. Even though we may be working and studying alone we are doing an activity… TOGETHER.

Higher education will fail or thrive based on the recognition and dedication given to the renaissance of their physical built environments. Schools that embrace hybrid learning and prioritize the time and space where students gather will thrive. This is the post-COVID educational value equation that will attract enrollment (and funding) to reimagine higher education.

How will leadership and space planners allocate resources to marry technology with in-person learning to spark memorable experiences on campus? Because after all, it’s the SHARED moments that enrich the pursuit of higher education.

Mark Schmitz is a Certified Experience Economy Expert, Founder and Creative Director of ZEBRADOG, an Experiential Design Firm located in Madison, Wisconsin.

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