The Chicken or the Egg?

While “convergence” is a fun buzz word now commonplace when discussing technology, by definition, it’s when two or more things merge to form a new whole. In the past, technology deployed in the learning space varied dramatically from workplace technology. For instance, apart from some company training, do you spend your workdays in a lecture hall being lectured by the boss (with many afraid to ask questions)? Today, technologies are being leveraged in both learning and doing environments. As the lines of technology blur, both spaces inform each other.

Consider the learning space and the workplace. When it comes to technology, while there may not necessarily be a single right answer as to which comes first, it’s worth considering, and the convergence between the two.

Should the education space consider the workplace (and the future careers of its students) when deploying strategies and technology? Or should the workplace consider technology that supports the skills and preferences of its employees that have already been developed in the learning space?

What skills do employees want their employees to possess? Multiple studies identify the same top five traits: Teamwork, Problem Solving, Technical Knowledge, Communication and the ability to organize and prioritize work. Except for technical knowledge related to their field, all the other traits are how well the employee can work with others and communicate. What technologies and approaches are being leveraged in the workplace that could be helpful in the learning space?

No More “Sage-on-the-Stage”

The long-standing academic tradition has been for students to attend the lecture, then go home and do the homework. Education assumed that employees would choose a single profession and the development of skills outside of that profession was unnecessary. Skills taught in the traditional classroom were memorization, recall, repetition – rinse and repeat. How does this approach teach the skills demanded by the workplace? Today’s work environment is much more fluid, and the job market reflects this: people change jobs, companies, even professions at an ever-increasing rate. Employers are demanding well-rounded skill sets.

In response, education institutions have moved away from the traditional classroom and lecture hall to active learning environments. Active learning is fostered by a problem-based learning environment, encouraging discovery, understanding teamwork and problem solving, and engaging everyone. To support the change in the learning space, the technology and tools became more like the workplace by introducing internet access for in class research, web-conferencing or the ability to bring an expert to class, collaborative sharing capability, personal device integration and getting away from the forward-facing lecture-based presentation.

Yes, Active Learning Classrooms (ALC) are non-focused and noisy spaces that can be difficult to manage — just like the workplace today. Learning in an active environment not only prepares a student for working in collaborative work environment, but also to tune out distractions, prioritize, and be more efficient with the work at hand in an open office setting.

All these learning space changes are exciting, but altering the pedagogy means changing the teaching style. Training and curriculum development for the educators may be one of the most important components – otherwise a lecture-style delivery remains in a classroom no longer effective for that teaching style. Ironically, this is where most failure in Active Learning Classrooms occur.

The World is My Classroom

Higher ed campuses offer collaboration spaces outside the classroom, inspired by changes they see happening in the workplace. No longer just the primary education space, the classroom is now just one of many places for students to exchange ideas, confront assignment challenges, and do online research via personal devices. And outside those traditional learning spaces, information delivery is literally being built into the physical structure through interactive displays, video walls, data visualization spaces, contextually aware digital signage, GPS locator services, and intelligent building systems. These ubiquitous “virtual classrooms” in breakrooms, elevators, and lobbies foster communication and collaboration that amp up communication skills.

So how can designers of workplace environments take a cue from academia? The basic workplace tools (desk, chair, computer) do not change much from year to year, but the way that people prefer to communication and interact with the physical space is different. Does your staff lean toward more in-person or virtual communication? What future social media, text, blogs, chats, unified communication systems, AR/VR/XR or other technologies will augment interactions? Employee efficacy is built on effective communication with colleagues, clients, etc. Their preferred communication methods are learned in the education space starting back in K-12 and beyond.

Personal devices are now acceptable in the learning environment and utilized as part of their education. Education spaces now leverage application-based solutions to poll students in class for retention, collaboration and satisfaction. Institutions are rolling out online tools for lectures, support, workshops and campus-wide communication in lieu of more traditional methods. Many of the students today prefer online or application communication to in person discussion. The workplace can be more productive and innovative by paying attention to the current and upcoming communication methods and employee preferences.

Mother and Child Reunion

As the classroom evolves to include more problem-based and active group learning, the workplace is taking note. What’s the optimum team size? What collaboration tools are easiest to use and support the work being done? What communication tools are useful in developing a group (e.g. teambuilding, appointed roles, etc.)? What technology best supports my particular workplace?

Students come to class already embracing tools like Virtual or Augmented Reality (thank you, computer gaming!). These certainly impact the effectiveness of the workplace by further enriching communications. Better connection of remote employees virtually gives them a real seat at the table rather than just a disembodied voice coming down the phone line. Continuing education for healthcare can now be delivered more frequently at a fraction of the cost. Imagine what improvements in 3-D design, the ability to virtually travel, and human interface with machines will do for your business. As its use in the education space grows, the workplace will embrace these advancements as well.

So maybe the question is not which comes first, but how does each entity learn from the other? The line between the workplace and the learning space technology is blurring. As that continues, both can learn from each other to foster environments that better train future employees, and leverage the skills and methods originally formulated at school.


Kelly Stumpf PMP is the award-winning principal leading our Denver office. With well over 200 projects spanning Higher Education, Healthcare, Corporate, Civic, Museums, Hospitality, Broadcast, Performing Arts and Theatres across North America (and beyond), her appreciation of client priorities — and attentive follow-through — makes her a sought-after consultant. Reach out to Kelly: 720.213.7550 x241 or