Learning Environments

Cultivating a positive learning environment in your classroom will have a significant effect on your students’ learning experience.

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What is the learning environment?

Learning environment refers to the physical, social, emotional, cultural and intellectual context in which students learn. It may refer as well to values and contain the department, school or community in which learning takes place. We will focus on the elements of in-person and online classrooms and explore strategies that cultivate positive learning environments.

In positive learning environments students experience a high level of trust amongst themselves and their instructor, they view decisions as fair, they have a sense of belonging, and they feel listened to. In these environments, students are encouraged to tackle challenges, take risks, express themselves and ask for help.

What are the advantages of a positive learning environment?

There are many factors that determine the learning environment in which you teach, some are out your control such as the structure of the room or the learning management system. However, how you work with the elements of the environment that you can control will impact your students’ ability to learn.

In his groundbreaking research, professor John Hattie synthesized the findings of over 1,500 meta-analyses of 90,000 education studies with more than 300 million participants to find out what works best in improving student learning outcomes. Among the 195 effects that Hattie identified, the following classroom environment factors had effects on student achievement that were as large or larger than the average effect a teacher has alone on student achievement.

Classroom management

  • Well-managed classrooms run by instructors with situational awareness who attentively guide student time, behavior, disruptions and attention.
  • Warm, trust- and empathy-based student-teacher relationships are critical to this factor.

Classroom cohesion

  • Students work together towards a common goal and benefit from each other’s success, and when instructors genuinely care and are working to support students’ achievements.

Peer influences

  • Classmates help, tutor and give each other feedback through learning-based interactions, as well as sharing friendship and making the class a pleasurable place to be.

Since the learning environment will have a strong impact on student success it is important to ensure that it is a positive impact.

Here’s how you might use this

There are many strategies that will cultivate a supportive and enriching environment in your course. Here are a few popular approaches.

Community-centeredWhat is the learning environment?

Whether in-person or online, a community-centered course supports and motivates students to learn from one another and make continual efforts towards improvement. These are judgment-free zones where students feel free to ask for help, make mistakes and collaborate. The pursuit of understanding is prioritized over having all the answers.

Guided student learning

The middle ground between a didactic and completely unstructured student-teacher relationship, guided learning offers a dynamic that assesses students learning needs, suggests strategies they can use to make meaning and provides feedback that advances their understanding and practice.

Community of inquiry

A social constructivist model of learning originally designed for online and blended learning environments. The Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework recognizes the importance of the interaction between the teaching, social, and cognitive presences in creating a positive learning environment.

Additional resources

Literature

  • Hattie, J. (2008). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Brewer, S., & Klein, J. D. (2006). Type of positive interdependence and affiliation motive in an asynchronous, collaborative learning environment. Educational Technology Research and Development54(4), 331-354.
  • Blumberg, P. (2009). Developing learner-centered teaching: a practical guide for faculty. Jossey-Bass.