Bradford VTS Online Resources:

Teaching & Learning

The Learning Environment

What is a learning environment?

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The learning environment can refer to 3 things:

  • an educational approach,
  • a cultural context, or
  • the physical setting in which teaching and learning occur.

In GP training, we typically use it to refer to the culture of a training school or training practice — its presiding ethos and characteristics, including how individuals interact with and treat one another.  Things like…

  • The educational ethos of the learning organisation
  • It’s educational philosophy
  • How this works in practice -- how do individuals interact and learn?
  • What are the governing educational structures?
  • What do they hope the learner will experience?  What are they trying to achieve?

In teaching organisations, like training schemes or training practices, the learning environment refers to the culture and context of a place or organisation.   It includes factors such as the way of thinking, behaving, or working (s0metimes referred to as organisational culture).   In a nutshell, the operational characteristics of the teachers  and the organisation. 

What does this really, really mean? (on a practical level)

If you want to create a positive learning environment, one of the most important things to do is to create a safe and effective learning environment.    What is crucial to this is the rapport between the teacher and the learners. When the learners take into account that their teacher GENUINELY cares about them and GENUINELY wants them to do well -- they feel safe enough to asking questions, take measured risks as a way to analyse something new and finally to learn from making mistakes.   To build this type of relationship, the teacher need to take interest in every learner’s strengths as well as their struggles and frustrations. The teacher will need to behave as a effective model for learning and celebrating achievements when they occur. When the learners see that their instructor can learn from his or her mistakes, they will adopt similar practices.

Creating a classroom community and culture is another vital component of creating a positive learning environment.  Learners need to “gel” together and understand their commonalities and embrace their differences.   It is the teacher’s job though to create this network so that all learners can feel a sense of belonging to the group.   When learners enjoy each other’s company, they are more likely to open up and be honest, share their difficulties, listen to others, value others, contribute to the group and engage in collaborative learning.   This can be achieved in several ways:

  • collaborative learning activities
  • sharing strengths
  • creating a safe space to air difficulties and collaboratively helping indviduals
  • having fun and laughter together whilst learning. 

Another important responsibility of the teacher is to develop a learning environment wherein learners are motivated to learn.   The teacher’s own enthusiasm, dynamism and positive role-modelling can inspire learners without even trying!  Give learners autonomy to do things and stay away from micromanaging them -- let them find their own way, knowing you are around in the background if needed.    It is critical for teachers to place an emphasis on intrinsic motivation -- where learners genuinely want to learn for themselves. Of course, extrinsic motivation can boost intrinsic motivation -- so don’t be shy to use praise and rewards for exceptional behaviour.  

However, whilst we have said that learners need autonomy, the teacher also has to exert a bit of control to ensure educational processes and philosophies are maintained.   Leaners can’t learn in an environment in which the facilitator has lost control.  Certain expectations need to be shared with the group such as group rules.  Group rules are there for everyone’s safety, maintain boundaries, and learn positively.   

Ultimately, you want to create an educational environment where it is the duty of every member inside the “learning community” to take care of and encourage one another. Only with all of us cooperating and collaborating can the learning environment positively flourish with wonderful expected and unexpected learning outcomes.

Examples of things you can do

  • Work with learners to establish ground rules about how they will behave towards each other in discussion, rather than imposing rules on them. This helps rules to be more meaningful and relevant (examples below). 
  • Offer opportunities for learners to discuss issues in small groups as well as sharing views with the class; this can help some learners to feel more confident.
  • Provide balanced information including a variety of views to help learners clarify their own opinions (whilst being clear that behaviours such as discrimination and bullying are never acceptable in any form).
  • Be aware of and sensitive to the needs and experiences of individual learners that may have direct experience of some of the issues being discussed.
  • Provide opportunities for learners to ask questions anonymously, by using a Question Box or ‘Ask it Basket’, for example. This enables learners to ask questions that concern them without having to do so in front of their peers.
  • Provide information to learners about how they can get help and support both from the training practice, the training scheme and outside, as appropriate.
  • Depersonalise discussions by using distancing techniques – stories, role-play, scenarios of real situations but with fictional characters and storylines etc.  

Examples of group rules

Although ground rules are most meaningful and effective when developed as collaboratively, there are basic elements that should be encouraged, including:

  • Listen to and respect each other
  • Use language that won’t offend or upset other people.
  • Comment on what was said, not the person who said it.
  • If learners share their personal experiences -- respect them, be sensitive and keep information confidential.
  • Don’t put anyone on the spot or ask personal questions
  • We all have the right to pass.
  • Don’t judge or make assumptions about anyone.
  • Try and use “I” statements -- “I thought that…” rather than “It should be…”

Why is it so important?

Learning environments have both a direct and indirect influence on trainee learning.   Positive learning environments can positively enhance learners’ engagement in what is being taught, their motivation to learn, and their sense of well-being, belonging, and personal safety. For example, learning environments filled with sunlight and stimulating educational materials would likely be considered more conducive to learning than drab spaces without windows or decoration. How teachers interact with learners and how learners interact with one another may also be considered aspects of a learning environment, and phrases such as “positive learning environment” or “negative learning environment” are commonly used in reference to the social and emotional dimensions of a training school or practice.

Although this video refers to teaching children, watch it and see what can be transferable to adult education.

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