Embracing complexity: a sociotechnical systems approach for the design and evaluation of higher education learning environments

Eduardo Navarro-Bringas*, Graeme Bowles, Guy H. Walker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
65 Downloads (Pure)


Higher education institutions (HEI) have undergone fundamental changes driven by ICT developments, globalisation, and the advent of socio-constructivist pedagogic approaches. As a result, within the UK, capital investment in new and retrofitted facilities has reached a record expenditure. Recent research on user-related evaluations of facilities, particularly in HEI learning spaces, highlights the prevalence of evaluations dominated by reductionist approaches focused on measuring outcomes, on users, such as satisfaction, learning outcomes or engagement. These approaches have a major pitfall, neglecting the complexity of the dynamic relationships between people, spaces, technology, institutional structure and pedagogic practices. In response, this paper aims to propose a shift on current approaches by exploring the application of sociotechnical systems theory to learning space design and evaluation. Amid these, it is argued that Cognitive Work Analysis (CWA) offers promising alternatives to inform design and management of higher education learning spaces. Finally, within the paper, three CWA interventions are proposed and discussed, focusing on how these address previously identified shortcomings of predominant approaches used in HEI learning space design and evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-613
Number of pages19
JournalTheoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science
Issue number5
Early online date4 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • cognitive work analysis
  • higher education institutions
  • learning spaces
  • Post occupancy evaluation
  • sociotechnical systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics


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