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The university campus of the future: what will it look like?

FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION: We continue our series on the rise of online and blended learning and how free online courses are set to transform the higher education sector. Today Victoria University’s David…

Universities campuses need to adapt to the new reality of mobile students and online education. Flickr/Jill

FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION: We continue our series on the rise of online and blended learning and how free online courses are set to transform the higher education sector. Today Victoria University’s David Lamond looks at how online education will change the university campus.


Article after article on online education predicts that bricks and mortar universities are set to be replaced by “clicks and mortar.”

The sudden popularity of the MOOC (or Massive Open Online Course) – where brand name universities offer the same courses available to fee paying students for free, online – has seen some experts question the need for university campuses at all.

While it may be a little premature to write off the need for a campus entirely, there’s no doubt online mobile education is set to radically alter university architecture.

Exaggerated warnings

For those with long memories, the predictions of empty universities may sound familiar. In the 1990s, the same was said about the demise of the central business district (CBD). With teleworkers working from home and sending the fruits of their labour across the internet, the CBD would become redundant.

Of course, these prophecies were proved greatly exaggerated.

There are two significant reasons why the university campus, like the CBD, will survive. First, humans are social and political animals that need spaces to interact with each other. Just as Facebook and Twitter have not stopped people congregating in public places to socialise, online education won’t mean students will stop going to a university space to learn.

Second is the University Vice-Chancellor’s edifice complex – a “my building is bigger than your building” mentality. Universities will continue to compete to attract students and academics by building ever more impressive facilities.

What’s needed

But how should university campuses change given the new dynamics of online education? And can the edifice complex – the desire for great spaces – be harnessed to create a learning environment fit for the 21st century?

Let me say first of all that I welcome the transformation that is set to take place in university learning and the new ideas, technologies and opportunities that it will bring.

Physical changes can help enhance this learning experience and universities will start to compete to offer more and more technologically and student friendly spaces.

A step in the right direction has been the creation of collaborative learning spaces, most often referred to as “learning commons”. These spaces are much more suited to the new dynamics of online and student-centred learning than the lecture theatre.

The lecture theatre supports a one-way style of teaching, where learning commons provide a space for dialogue.

Learning commons are also able to take advantage of mobile IT capacities and wireless connectivity. These new learning spaces need to be populated not by whiteboards, but by electrical outlets and USB ports to enable individuals or groups to interact using laptops and iPads, incorporating a variety of audio-visual equipment, and interactive displays.

Along with learning commons and fewer large lecture theatres, universities also need broadcast studios. Broadcast studios are essential for developing video content for virtual classrooms, framed by the screens of laptops and desktops, in situ and on the move.

Future universities

If universities are to be the future of education rather than relics of the past, they do not need to have a campus on every corner but, rather, be accessible wherever our learners are, at times and in forms to meet their learning, social and psychological needs.

Above all else, students must be at the centre of this new architecture. We should welcome the MOOCs challenge as an opportunity to create the virtual and physical learning spaces of the future.


The series will conclude next week with a panel discussion in Canberra co-hosted with the Office for Learning and Teaching and involving the Minister for Tertiary Education, Chris Evans.

We’d love you to take part: leave your comments, join the discussion on twitter.com/conversationEDU, facebook.com/conversationEDU.


This is part nine of our series on the Future of Higher Education. You can read other instalments by clicking the links below:

Part one: Online opportunities: digital innovation or death through regulation?, Jane Den Hollander

Part two: MOOCs and exercise bikes – more in common than you’d think, Phillip Dawson & Robert Nelson

Part three: How Australian universities can play in the MOOCs market, David Sadler

Part four: MOOC and you’re out of a job: uni business models in danger, Mark Gregory

Part five: Radical rethink: how to design university courses in the online, Paul Wappett

Part six: Online education: can we bridge the digital divide?, Tim Pitman

Part seven: Online learning will change universities by degrees, Margaret Gardner

Part eight: Deadset? MOOCs and Australian education in a globalised world, Ruth Morgan

Join the conversation

22 Comments sorted by

    1. David Lamond

      Adjunct Professor of HRM & International Business at Victoria University

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      .... and yet the white elephants are still built :-). I agree that campuses won't remain merely because of a determination for the grand, but look at where "development" funding is so often directed - philanthropy has its rewards in memorialisation.

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    2. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      EIF will assure building development and renovation for as long as it exists.

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    3. David Lamond

      Adjunct Professor of HRM & International Business at Victoria University

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      Yes, but let's look to encourage monies from the Education Investment Fund be spent in ways that genuinely "transform Australia's knowledge generation and teaching capabilities" (a key element of its raison d'être according to the DIISRTE website).

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    4. Rosalind De Sailly

      Senior Researcher, UTS Business School at University of Technology, Sydney

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      The 'VC's edifice complex' is more about ego than attracting students! There has been some great examples of philanthropists' memorials enhancing education for students; Thomas Fisher's contribution to University of Sydney used to be a kind of learning commons.

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    5. David Lamond

      Adjunct Professor of HRM & International Business at Victoria University

      In reply to Rosalind De Sailly

      HI Rosalind,

      Thanks for joining in! I guess this is the point at which I need to use the line:
      "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment" :-)

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  1. Koenraad Kuiper

    Professor Emeritus and Honorary Professor at University of Canterbury and University of Sydney

    It's customary to think of lectures as involving one-way communication. But it ain't necessarily so for two reasons. First, even with large lectures there can be opportunities for small exercises to be done by students working with those in their immediate vicinity and to provide feedback from those exercises. There are opportunities for students to answer questions and to ask questions.
    Second and more significantly, even when a lecturer is lecturing, non-verbal feedback communication is manifest…

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    1. David Lamond

      Adjunct Professor of HRM & International Business at Victoria University

      In reply to Koenraad Kuiper

      Hi Koenraad,

      Thanks for your comments. You're right that lectures are not one-way communication exercises. Indeed, with the capacity for rich feedback, using the latest ICTs enables the kind of interaction to which you refer. Having said that, I'm not simply advocating "on line" but, rather, a blended approach that takes advantage of all the available technologies to create an interactive, collaborative learning environment.

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    2. Koenraad Kuiper

      Professor Emeritus and Honorary Professor at University of Canterbury and University of Sydney

      In reply to David Lamond

      Thanks, David and agreed absolutely. The real problem, in my view, is not that there could be and should be blended learning but exactly what that blend is for course X and its course objectives and sub topic Y and how that is best taught. Blended learning makes pedagogy more problematic because there are more possible answers as to how something is best taught. It makes it more complex to assess how successful one blend is as against another. So working with learning management systems poses many serious pedagogical questions for the practicing subject-expert teacher. Many are only answerable by trial and error in particular contexts, none of which are identical.

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    3. Koenraad Kuiper

      Professor Emeritus and Honorary Professor at University of Canterbury and University of Sydney

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Nice phrase. Thanks for it and the reference.

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  2. Janet Congues

    logged in via Facebook

    I think it's about creating a balance. When I look at what has happened with the new La Trobe University building in Shepparton I am blown away by the 'dialogue' space it has generated. I love the fact that there is so much space for students to sit around, with their electronics and study. What has been lost, though, is the lecture room and the quiet study rooms for postgraduate research and researchers in general. Creating 'hot-spots' for research academics to sit out that are out in the open…

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    1. David Lamond

      Adjunct Professor of HRM & International Business at Victoria University

      In reply to Janet Congues

      Hi Janet,

      You've probably heard the saying "Moderation in all things, including moderation!". Creating a balance is spot on, but it needs to be a balance for all involved, as I think you're saying, not one at the expense of the other. In this sense "blended" learning should not be used as code for "on line" but, rather, as a genuine combination of experiences, methods and technologies (using this term in its generic sense) to create that balance.

      Thanks for your contribution.

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  3. Rob Crowther

    Architectural Draftsman

    I think the nature of this will be Gaussian.

    The issue will be what will occupy the body of the curve.

    Universities will exist but will they be the body of the curve or will something else? I would look at the gambling industry to see a short term trend. How many people use a TAB (bricks and mortar) and how many are ‘serviced’ online.

    For a long term trend, I would look at the movie industry. How many people go to a cinema and how many hire or download movies?

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  4. Jim McLeod

    Geo Scientist

    I also disagree that universities will continue because people want to socialise and others want edifices. Universities will exist because people want to learn.

    Presently to go to university you have to travel and in many cases live in cities. I went to university to access books, equipment, data, ideas and people skilled in the areas I wanted to learn about. These days I can do all this online, but in a relatively unstructured way. What the university could do is provide structure to this experience…

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    1. David Lamond

      Adjunct Professor of HRM & International Business at Victoria University

      In reply to Jim McLeod

      Thanks for your thoughtful contribution Jim. I agree with that you write, especially about universities structuring/facilitating learning. The question then is about how the universities will structure/facilitate. Whether you need to work with your small group "face to face" or whether you can be supported to do so virtually becomes pertinent. In this regard, it's also important to note that I referred to we humans as social beings - we like to do things together ... and learning is one of those things.

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  5. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

    President of ONLINE Learning Co non-profit

    Please, please
    do not mix up Coursera and Udacity
    with
    MITx Harvardx Berkeleyx

    They are like south and north poles

    MITx Harvardx Berkeleyx is nonprofit, providing real courses same as on campus and provides the certificate of mastering after a rigid exam.
    They do not accept everyone to the club either .
    They do not offer many universities and/or many courses .

    I see they will replace the teaching universities not research universities.
    But they do not want to disrupt the exsisting…

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    1. David Lamond

      Adjunct Professor of HRM & International Business at Victoria University

      In reply to Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

      HI Muvaffak,

      Thanks for your contribution. I've no doubt that the MOOCs will prosper and will be an important catalyst for all of us to refocus on the importance of the provision of student focussed learning and teaching experiences ... on line and face to face.

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