As I have written about many times before the world we live in today is becoming more and more dynamic. This means that the old industrial silos of information and specialization are becoming a problem. That’s because, to borrow from Frans Johansson, we are increasingly working in the intersections between traditional specializations. What matters now is not as much the integrity of the design but how that design communicates flexes and supports the missions of the space that it was built for. This is always been true to a certain extent but never more so than today.
As I have learned from years of working with architects, living in an intersection is challenging. One of the main reasons for this is that both sides of the conversation often fail to realize that the other side is not in understanding them in the way that they intended. Furthermore, neither side clearly understands how technology, analysis tools, and the speed of change is impacting their jobs and the environments in which they work.
The ELITE Strategy is specifically designed to address this problem. ELITE, which defines a hierarchy of spaces, both physical and virtual, is based on the application of data on active and empowered learning as well as innovation support as practiced by companies such as Google and Facebook. It forms the cornerstone of the Space aspect of The IDEASPACES project. In an educational environment ELITE stands for Empowering Learners, Instructors, and Technological Empowerment. In a corporate environment the same rubric applies but his focus more toward Innovation facilitation. In this environment the acronym stands for Employee Learners, empowering Innovation Teams, and Technological Empowerment.
There is no question that empowering students and employees improves overall performance. In the case of students, Active and Empowered learning lead to a significant reduction in course failures, according to the National Academy of Sciences , so we should be constructing learning spaces to facilitate such activity. This data shows a simple fact: if the student can control significant parts of his or her learning experience, he or she will do better in school. Most traditional do not give the student much control. He is subject to listening to information (much of which is freely available elsewhere and is often of questionable relevance). In the case of employees companies such as Google, 3M, and others have successfully implemented employee empowerment times to support innovative projects.
Physical and virtual spaces have to support these kinds of activities and in many cases they don’t. The reasons for this are twofold. First, those using the spaces (students, teachers, employees, managers, etc.) do not necessarily understand the difference between a design that supports their intended activities and one that obstructs them until they start to use the space. In some cases these spaces are adapted to meet the needs of the moment. However, some spaces are particularly ill-suited to this kind of adaptation. In any case, the goal should be to optimize the environment for active learning and innovation, not place barriers in the way of such activity. On the other side of the problem, architects, interior designers, and software developers often have a poor understanding of what it takes to give Learners (traditional or employee) control over their environment so that they can shape it at will and on the fly. The LIT Strategy is designed to provide a common vocabulary in the analysis and design of spaces designed to facilitate learning and innovation on the individuallevel.
Organization is important to structure learning and innovation. Under Active Learning, the role of the teacher, librarian, guide, or team leader is critical in steering the innovation and learning down productive paths. Instructors and Innovation Team Leaders are perhaps the most critical link in establishing Liquid Networks, as Steven Johnson refers to them. In order to do this, they need to be empowered to create and recreate environments for the group, whether that be a classroom or a team, on the fly. Many of the strategies that empower Learnersalso empower this level. However, often larger changes that impact groups of people will amplify the learning effect, stimulate larger network activity, and transform school from a class to a community. The typologies and tools on this level are explicitly designed to create this kind of effect.
Finally, we have to flip the problem of empowered teaching, learning, and innovating by considering the impact of Technology on spaces. One of the limitations of most cutting edge technology is that it tends to create environments shaped around the technology and not user empowerment. Often this results in spaces that are poorly designed for teaching and learning. The good news is that this technological imperative is becoming less and less of an issue as the technology itself is trending toward more physically lightweight solutions. MakerSpaces are specifically designed around lightweight, flexible technological solutions.
Siloed environments like auto shops or metal shops are becoming more archaic as the technology in them is becoming outmoded or replaced by more automated solutions that are less dangerous. However, there is still a need for these kinds of spaces in many environments. If our focus is on empowering learners and innovators, they should be made as receptive to those modes as possible by introducing elements of Learnerand Instructorempowerment into them as much as possible. They also have to be able to react to changes technology and programmatic needs as easily and cheaply as possible.
The ELITE Strategy is designed to create environments that augment learning and innovative activities at levels. It is specifically designed to maximize utility while minimizing costs. This has the added benefit of making the physical and virtual space robust in the face of unexpected changes in needs and technology that are sure to disrupt education and business in the coming years. This reduces M&O expenditures by creating spaces that require minimal remodeling or infrastructure adaptations to future needs.
ELITE can be used as a design tool or an analysis tool. As an analysis tool it provides a framework to analyze existing floorplans or virtual spaces to look for opportunities to easily and cheaply rethink spaces. The system is complemented by a set of cards that establish a typology and tool set for programming and design exercises as well as brainstorming future spaces. While the card exercise is directed primarily toward physical spaces, this strategy can also be used to design virtual spaces.