At Steelcase Event Experiences we believe in creating great
experiences wherever events happen. We do this by transforming
temporary spaces through experience design and premium grade
furniture to help create powerful, purposeful events. Using our research,
insights and our clients’ specific goals, we create custom spaces that
inspire cultures of engagement, communication and collaboration.
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Igniting Active Learning
How Breakout Room Designs Affect Engagement
You know the scene well. You walk into a room designated for a conference breakout session
and see rows and rows of traditional chairs and tables. While this is the norm, it’s not the
most inspiring set-up and, ironically, not very conducive to easily connecting with peers.
Or, think about being tasked to sit upright for an hour in an
uncomfortable chair before being asked to form small groups
with your session neighbors. The environment and the products
inside are likely not ideal for activities people are asked to perform. You can probably recall dragging chairs across the floor
to form a circle, or catching people sitting on the hard ground
instead. While the presenter stands at the front of the room
lecturing, you may have to strain your neck to see everyone else
scattered throughout the room.
Active learning, so desired at conferences, is an individual’s
pursuit of knowledge by engaging in a combination of multiple
experiences. Steelcase Education researchers spend their time
understanding human behaviors and how they arise from different environments—including events and meetings. While many
factors are at play in achieving success, the role of space design
is often overlooked or underemphasized.
For those planning educational content for event attendees,
please consider how design and physical place also impacts
active engagement. Satisfaction and great participation are the
result of more than just intriguing content. How can the space
you place your attendees in activate inspiration, stimulation and
learning outcomes? And what are tactics to employ to spur such
• Place presenters or discussion facilitators in an area where
they can walk around and comfortably engage with the audi-
ence, and set attendees up in configurations with easy sight-
lines to the instructor, content and each other
• Take advantage of every inch of real estate through configura-
tions that support active rather than passive engagement
• Employ mobile furniture to make room for real life scenarios
and role playing, if applicable
• Provide work tools and surfaces for individual reflection
• Offer comfortable settings to increase focus
Recent research shows that humans are capable of “sus-
tained attention” for about 45 minutes to an hour, which may
explain why various events run that length of time, from TV and
radio programs to class periods and lunch breaks. However,
despite what humans may be capable of, the speed at which a
tedious lecture can lull a person to sleep demonstrates that sus-
tained attention is a difficult thing to achieve.
“A big problem is that traditional learning experiences are
not aligned with how the brain works, particularly as it relates to
– Andrew Kim, Education Researcher at Steelcase
When people feel comfortable in their spaces and are able to
move and change postures freely, their attention spans increase,
discussions are richer and the entire experience becomes more
Steelcase Event Experiences creates active learning environments, powerful general sessions, and collaborative networking
spaces at some of the nation’s most important meetings and
To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact
Cherai Lewis, Experience Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Content Provided by Steelcase, Inc.