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Case Study: Maybe Your Ducks Should Not All Be in a Row
Steelcase is a furniture company out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, that was founded in 1912. They were originally named Metal Office Furniture Co., and their first patent was for a metal wastebasket. In 1915 their product line increased to safe deposit vault equipment, lockers, strong boxes, steel shelving, and finally desks. By 1951, Steelcase Foundation was created, and throughout the years they adjusted and modified their equipment to be attainable for all customers. Steelcase now focuses on making furniture suitable for any learning experience and training site so that the trainees can get the most out of learning. They focus on innovation and push limits to help transform schools and offices into effective learning sites. They helped refurbish the Grand Valley State University library to make it relevant for the twenty-first-century learning centers. They have twenty-nine different types of seating within the library, along with a variety of different workspaces for students to use to work on individual or group assignments.
They lead the furniture market in creating great experiences with architecture, furniture, and technology within their products. Steelcase focuses on being environmentally sustainable as well as economical in the changes they have made within the company. Their research shows that, on average, only 54% of office space is used throughout the day and over 37% of employees are not engaged at work, which is why Steelcase designed a way for people to work in different settings. In their headquarters building in Michigan, they have several different types of areas to allow for different interactions of employees. There are spaces for people to work alone in private individual rooms, in group areas, or in open individual areas.
When considering a site design, Steelcase focuses on noise, color, room structure, lighting, furniture, outlets, acoustics, and technology. They conducted a survey on classroom designs for active learning by both students and instructors. Steelcase Education researchers wanted to understand more about how to create engagement from students and teachers within the classroom, so they developed a survey called the Active Learning Post Occupancy Evaluation (AL-POE) tool. This was a way to measure the impact of learning based on the training site’s effectiveness. The design and layout of a room can make or break the learning and transfer of training.
The AL-POE showed that classrooms intentionally designed to support active learning increase student engagement on multiple measures as compared to a traditional classroom setting. Classrooms at four U.S. universities were designed with Steelcase furniture to test the active learning setting. The research was designed to analyze student engagement by asking participants to compare their experiences in a traditional classroom (“pre/old”) setting with row-by-row seating with a classroom designed for active learning (“post/new”) where physical space supports a focus on engaging experiences for students and faculty. They asked questions six to eight weeks into the evaluation about “pre/old” and “post/new” settings for each aspect of the room design and the practices and solutions that were conducted in it. Students and faculty both saw improvements in the engagement of students and the amount of information that was retained, versus a traditional classroom layout where all the students are seated in rows.
Many companies strive to have a strong and effective training program and site to facilitate effective learning for their employees. With the AL-POE, other companies are now able to learn from them and collaborate with them to create the most engaging learning site they can. Steelcase now has furnished several universities across the country and is leading in the furniture industry. With their new way of providing spaces that improve students’ engagement and concentration, learning is improving on college campuses and in corporate training environments.