A learning environment is more than a physical location at which a student learns. It also includes the various contexts and cultures that influence how a learner encounters new information. It includes locations outside of the designated classroom, including libraries or outdoor environments. “Learning environment” also refers to the ways in which an instructor organizes a class or presents the educational material. By incorporating the way that individuals interact with each other, the phrase allows a more comprehensive understanding of the learning environment for both students and teachers.
The definition of a learning environment acknowledges that students learn differently, especially depending on the context. The optimal learning environment for one student may be very different for their peer, which means that there is no single set of criteria to check off that certify an effective learning environment.
It is also important to acknowledge that some physical locations intended to serve as a setting for instructing students are not necessarily learning environments. Classrooms are not inherently learning environments for students because they fail to meet the needs of the individuals who are supposed to be retaining the disseminated information. Learning environments prioritize the students and aim to create an atmosphere that encourages their learning and development.
4 Types of Learning Environments
There are many different types of learning environments that differ from the traditional teaching style. It’s important for instructors to encourage growth in their classroom. Here are four types of learning environments that instructors can use to engage their students.
A learner-centered learning environment, or a student-centered environment, focuses on the qualities that students bring with them to the classroom. This learning environment allows students to decide what kind of material they learn and how they learn it. This differs from teacher-centered learning environments, in which the classroom is commanded by the instructor who makes all the decisions. Learner-centered environments do not eliminate the essential role of the teacher. Conversely, this style of learning relies on the teacher’s knowledge and expertise to increase student engagement.
Learner-centered environments strengthen students’ decision-making skills by using them as a strong force for the learning process. This environment can look different across classrooms, but there are some features that most student-centered environments have in common. These environments emphasize how the educational process applies to the world outside of the classroom. This makes the material more widely applicable to the learner’s life and presents itself as transferable knowledge. Many programs with this environment also include rigorous assessments of students and teachers to determine their performance.
Knowledge-centered learning environments prioritizes the diversity of information that a student learns. The goal is to help a student learn things in a wide range of academic disciplines to equip learners with a broad understanding of a balanced array of subjects. The knowledge-centered curriculum is carefully organized to gradually increase in complexity over time. As the curriculum becomes more challenging, students develop a more specialized understanding of topics in a specific subject.
Because this curriculum requires in-depth information about a subject, instructors who are experts in the discipline teach the class. Knowledge-based curricula naturally sequence to help learners develop a map of information that is easily remembered, rather than memorizing it and regurgitating it onto an assessment.
Assessment-centered learning environments emphasize the importance of feedback for learners and teachers. There are two main kinds of assessments used in this curriculum: formative and summative.
Formative assessments help instructors establish what students already know about a subject. The feedback from these assessments gives students direction for understanding what aspects of a topic they need to continue studying in order to have a comprehensive grasp on the topic. Instructors administer these assessments regularly to give feedback on progress up to that point. At the end of a unit, an instructor administers a summative assessment to determine how well students understand and apply the material from the instructional unit.
Community-centered learning environments encourage collaboration among learners. The most important element of a community-centered environment is a strong basis of trust among the students and the instructor. This environment prioritizes the importance of allowing students to make mistakes in the classroom without worrying about potential negative repercussions. Students who feel comfortable making mistakes in the classroom are more engaged, helping them learn.
This environment implements assignments that prioritize collaboration over competition. Courses that encourage critical thinking and problem-solving allow students to work together to come to conclusions as a group. This encourages them to participate more actively and avoid the fear of failure or ridicule once trust has been established in the classroom.
Characteristics of a Learning Environment
Although there are various types of learning environments to implement in a classroom, they all share some components that reinforce the value of an instructor. Here are 4 characteristics of learning environments to prioritize in the classroom.
An environment that encourages learning makes students feel safe. A safe space influences the culture of a classroom because students who know they are safe are more trusting and willing to participate more heavily. A safe space is one that makes students feel accepted. Emotional safety gives students the space to make mistakes without fear of ridicule or failure. Feeling accepted by an instructor and their peers encourages students to push the boundaries of their comfort zone and experiment creatively, which in turn produces higher quality performance.
Trust and security are two sides of the same coin. A safe space ultimately allow students to feel more connected to each other, which encourages collaboration and participation in the classroom.
Learning environments require positive feedback. When reviewing an assessment, students should not only learn from the mistakes they made but also feel proud of the successes they had. Turning mistakes into learning opportunities establishes a culture where students are satisfied with work they complete. Positive reinforcements encourage students to continue their efforts, whereas humiliation can deter them from wanting to try again.
Students are part of the learning environment, so the classroom runs much more effectively when they assist the instructor in motivating their peers. When the instructor sets a good example of how to respond to situations that could be embarrassing, like answering a question incorrectly, it serves as an invitation to the other students to act similarly. By enforcing compliance with motivational and positive behaviors, the culture of a classroom is much more conducive to learning.
3. Diversity of Perspectives
To create an effective learning environment, an instructor must acknowledge the strengths that students bring to the classroom, including their ideas and perspectives. Learning environments encourage the individuality of each student while also emphasizing the importance of using their skills to contribute to the greater community in the classroom. By practicing this approach, students learn that their contributions are valuable in professional and personal situations and a culture of collaboration is fostered.
It’s important to allow students to share their perspectives with varied groups of their peers. While everyone’s ideas and thoughts are valuable, working with the same group of people for long stretches of time can stagnate growth and development.
4. Interactive Opportunities
The traditional teacher-centered learning environment requires students to participate in a classroom culture that is not tailored to fit their needs. Active learning environments are much more engaging than the passive learning of the past. Invite students to participate in classroom activities by offering opportunities that are easy to participate in. Small group activities and non-competitive games can break down cliques or help shy students meet new people. These classroom opportunities encourage communication and collaboration among peers, which helps establish an effective learning environment.
Interacting with instructional material in multiple ways also helps student learn. Allow students to engage with information in a variety of ways, as most students are a combination of auditory, kinesthetic and visual learners. This helps students retain information better than if they only employed one of these methods.
Creating Effective Learning Environments
In order to create an effective learning environment, the instructor should ensure that students are equipped with the tools they need to succeed. This includes being aware of the resources that are available to them, such as libraries and learning centers. Connecting with parents can also open up avenues for helping students learn even when they are out of the classroom. Parents can offer a strong support system to the students, from homework help to positive reinforcement.
Effective learning environments ensure that students have access to the materials and information they need to succeed. Consider what educational information needs to be posted on the walls, such as vocabulary words, relevant formulas or purposeful posters and bulletin boards. Clearly share the date, upcoming assignments and classroom procedures, especially those which have been decided upon by the students themselves.
Students need to feel comfortable in the classroom in order to create an effective learning environment. Create a welcoming space that doesn’t feel stale or generic to encourage a sense of belonging. Give students a feeling of ownership over the space by displaying their work. Ask for their input on the classroom layout to involve them in the process of creating a classroom that makes them feel like active participants.
The classroom layout plays a crucial role in creating an effective learning environment. Both the students and the instructor should have dedicated areas they call their own. A teacher’s area offers a place to rest while students are working on assignments or taking exams. By having a specific teacher area, students can easily access help or ask questions if needed. When students have an individual desk or table space, they are more likely to keep it tidy.
The physical space influences how students interact with each other. Arranging the desks in a classroom contributes to an effective learning environment. For example, if you place the desks in clusters of four, it’s easier for students to communicate with each other. For large group activities, placing desks in a manner that allows them to easily see everyone in the room helps keep them engaged in the group-wide discussion.
Accessibility for students and the instructor must be considered as you create your classroom layout. The teacher needs to be able to reach every desk in the classroom to be able to monitor and assist students. Focusing on accessibility goes hand-in-hand with safety – students should be able to navigate the classroom without disrupting others or hurting themselves.
Facilitate easy traffic flow by using effective storage solutions. If technology available to students is stored in your classroom, utilize a smart storage option to ensure that students can easily access what they need. Other materials, like paper or writing utensils, should be kept in areas that are easy for students to return them after use.
Importance of a Learning Environment
An effective learning environment is beneficial both to teachers and students. Instructors create a culture of trust, which increases engagement and facilitates learning much more easily. Increasing the variety of instruction methods keeps teaching interesting, as you avoid the redundancy of lectures every day.
Students benefit greatly from an effective learning environment both academically and developmentally. Importantly, students learn and understand the importance of boundaries. The teacher has a designated area, and the students have specific spaces over which they claim ownership and responsibility.
Learning environments also establish predictability, as students can anticipate which kinds of activities occur in dedicated areas. They understand what kinds of behaviors are accepted and expected when in different locations in and out of the classroom, so they are attentive to how they can act during activities without causing a distraction. Students thrive in situations that are predictable, as it makes the environment more comfortable. When students are comfortable, they are more willing to trust their peers and allow themselves to branch out.
Effective learning environments familiarize students with various resources available to them in and out of the classroom. They can easily find classroom materials with a proper classroom setup or ask for help from groups that are designed specifically for aiding them. When students understand the need that a specific area fulfills, they can more easily take advantage of it.
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