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Envisioning Your Teaching Environment: What's the Plan?

Part One

So, I had originally titled this post, “Envision Your Teaching”, but decided to add “Environment” for a really important reason. Whether you are an educator or a student, you likely recognize that the environment that has been constructed for learning needs to be a place where both you and the learner want to be and want to engage. I would like to the spend the next few blog posts exploring how educators create the best environment for student engagement to take place, so that learning and retention takes place.

Let’s begin by thinking about the environment itself. Whether introvert or extrovert, humans are social creatures. At the center of adult social learning is the idea that we interact in our learning environment, and that interaction allows learning—the acquisition of knowledge, skills, attitudes or abilities—to take place. Think about one positive educational experience that you’ve had, whether in the classroom, seminar, or eLearning environment. The moment you stepped into the room, picked a seat in the conference room, or logged in to your course home page, you had expectations. Some of those expectations were driven by why you were there in the first place. Perhaps you were:

  • Taking a course as part of a degree plan

  • Taking a course as part of a vocational program or for a professional certification

  • Taking a professional development workshop or mandatory employer-driven training

  • Attending a seminar lecture or symposium

As a learner, your context also set the tone for those expectations. You may have been a novice learner, someone with some degree of prior knowledge of the subject matter, or perhaps you had solid prior knowledge of the subject matter and just need to refresh or supplement your existing knowledge base. Part of that context is also shaded by how you learn best (hearing, seeing, doing, or some combination of these three learning styles) and whether that environment will accommodate those needs. Learning context may also be influenced by a physical or cognitive disability; whether the environment accommodates those needs may also be a strong determinant of what learning takes place.

Whatever a learner’s reason or context, the environment sets the tone for what your experience would be. The physical or virtual environment will elicit a variety of responses. Appearance, configuration, even colors and textures, may stimulate interest or invoke boredom; create distractions or engender focus.; signal an expectation of active versus passive participation. Recalling your positive experience, consider how the environment played a factor in your ability to learn and how your expected to learn, based on cues from the environment.

So, what’s the plan? Start here: with your learners. Take account of who they are professionally or as students, what their contexts may be, and consider what type(s) of learning need to take place in that environment (cognition, skill development, etc.). How will the learning environment appeal to a diverse audience of learning styles? How might you accommodate learning disabilities?

Consider the following, based on the learning environment:

  • Classroom: How is the room situated? Based on the type of learning, is it conducive to discussion and interaction? How close and accessible will you be to the students as an instructor? What distractions exist? Do you have all the necessary materials in that environment to meet learning outcomes?

  • Online: Have you considered the flow of content in your course structure? How easy it is to find important information? Do students know where to begin, and how to find out what is expected of them? What will draw and hold their interest, visually?

  • Seminar: Is the space that you’ve been given configured appropriately for the content you are preparing to present? What target audience characteristics might you consider as you find ways to create a welcoming, engaging environment?

I will drop links in the coming days with some tips and suggestions—based on my experiences and those of other experts in the field. I welcome your feedback and contributions to this discussion as we continue this blog series! Thanks for reading.

-LB

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