A learning environment is more than just a classroom—it’s a space in which students feel safe and supported in their pursuit of knowledge, as well as inspired by their surroundings. Think back to some of the classroom environments you’ve encountered on your educational path. In your childhood, the learning environment you engaged in was probably vibrant and colorful, with a desk layout that allowed for flexibility if a lesson required more room for movement and physical expression. In high school, your learning environment was likely more focused at the head of the classroom to direct your attention, with rows of desks pointed forward.
But there’s more than just aesthetics at play in an effective learning environment. Instructors can also influence a learning environment by the way they teach and the atmosphere they create in the classroom. They can help influence student learning by encouraging student engagement, providing positive and constructive feedback that supports exploration, community among peers, and diversity. Studies have shown that thriving learning environments help increase student focus and retention of information.
As students continue to grow and evolve as learners, so, too, do the environments in which they learn. Learning environments have changed over time and can continue to expand to meet student needs, allowing teachers to continually optimize their learning environment to help students meet their educational goals.
There are different types of landscapes or categories that impact our learning, including our physical environment, psychological environment, and emotional environment. Here’s how these three categories can influence a learning environment:
Those vibrant, colorful classrooms of your youth or the rows of desks that characterized high school both fall into the category of the physical learning environment. This category is all about the design of a classroom, including how it’s laid out to influence learning, and which spaces are designated for learning activities. This can include the furniture that’s used to fill the space and even the equipment a teacher relies on to enhance the learning experience.
In recent years, at-home and distance learning have also become a part of the physical environment discussion. Parents have had to make adjustments at home to ensure their kids have a comfortable space to attend class via video chat and do their classwork off-site. For many, this has meant creating a designated space that helps students feel separate from the rest of the standard home space so home students are encouraged to focus—and to leave school behind at the end of the day once class is done.
A positive psychological environment can encourage students to engage with the curriculum—and their fellow students—in ways that can enhance their personal and professional development. By building trust with students and creating a safe space that feels welcoming for all, teachers create a positive learning environment and make sure students have more opportunities to participate, ask questions, take risks, and receive feedback.
School can be stressful at any age, which is why students need a positive emotional environment that supports their educational path. Part of creating the psychological environment’s safe space means addressing the emotional environment’s need for self-expression and the freedom to express emotions. By supporting student’s emotional needs and feelings, teachers help enhance their students’ emotional intelligence—which, in turn, gives them confidence. Teachers can also create a supportive emotional learning environment by creating routines students can rely on, encouraging diversity and choices, and celebrating their achievements.
There are a lot of things that parents and both current and aspiring teachers can do to create better learning environments. Some examples include:
- Parents can ensure their kids have a comfortable space where they can attend remote learning or video classes with the supplies they need, good seating, a strong internet connection, and more.
- Teachers can set parents up for success by sharing upcoming lesson plans so they can prepare for what’s to come, whether by getting needed materials or doing additional reading, and reinforce lessons.
- If a student is having difficulty, parents and teachers can collaborate on ways to support the student through the challenge, whether it’s through updated teaching methods, tutoring or just additional support from trusted parents.
- Make study time more fun with a little music, timed contests and drills, scents that can jog the memory, and other unique learning approaches.
In the Classroom
- Consider the layout of your classroom and how it supports student learning. Is there a better way to position desks so everyone can see what’s going on at the head of the class? Instead of rows, would semi-circles with the students facing one another create more engagement and camaraderie? Don’t be afraid to try new things!
- Encourage students to become a part of creating their own learning environment. This could mean having an art day where everyone creates artwork to decorate the walls, or it could mean having an open forum discussion where students can express what they need to be successful in the classroom. It depends on how old the students are and what the class focus is, but students will feel more connected to the environment if they have a hand in shaping it.
- Consider employing one of the five most common educational theories to adapt lessons to individual students and their learning needs.
By creating a positive and engaging learning environment, teachers can give their students the physical, psychological, and emotional support they need to thrive and be successful—in school, and beyond.