Feb 9, 2009

How Environment Affects Learning

One of the most interesting aspects of abstract art is how two people can take away extremely different impressions from the same piece. In some ways, a comparison can be drawn to learning--no two people will necessarily take away the same knowledge from the same lesson. This is due to a myriad of differences among learners including culture, student ability, preconceptions, and other variations in the learning process. Teachers have often applied an overarching uniformity in order to combat this, such as teaching to a standardized test. However, these measures are not necessarily effective in conveying knowledge to the student.

Still, there are some ideologies that have proven helpful to learning. The setting in which the learning takes place is one often-overlooked aspect that can help students absorb information and ideas. This includes several aspects, from the physical to the purely metaphysical.

The approach a teacher takes should be grounded on four basic principles. These are essentially considerations to make when laying out lesson plans and material. They include: Learner Centered, Knowledge Centered, Assessment Centered, and Community Centered. The first consideration focuses on what the student brings to the table--what has the student learned about the subject previously? How will their preconceptions shape the way in which they absorb the information? The Knowledge Centered principle is an understanding of the application of the knowledge gained in answering questions and solving problems. The Assessment Centered principle is an acknowledgment of the ways in which the teacher critiques the student, such as how the student has progressed, where they are strong, and where they need improvement. Finally, the Community Centered principle is a focus on how the environment creates a sense of belonging. It is up to the teacher to consider each of these aspects in order to maximize learning effectiveness.

Physical space should also be considered. Something as simple as the way in which furniture is arranged can drastically change the way that students learn. For example, without space for movement, students might feel restricted in interpersonal interaction, hindering any exchange of ideas that the teacher may attempt to promote. Additionally, access to resources (such as texts, maps, and most importantly, the Internet) is of paramount importance, so the physical space should be designed so these tools are quickly and readily available to each student.

But what about learning that takes place online? Is there a difference in the effectiveness of a lesson if there is no actual physical space in which it is taught? Surprisingly, the answer is no. One study performed at the Harvard Medical School Center for Palliative Care has shown that there is no discernable difference in the effectiveness of a lesson taught online when compared to a traditional classroom setting.

There have been many studies conducted about the learning process and how to best create an effective environment for the student. The traditional model of rote memorization and drilling has been scrutinized and deemed as ineffective when compared to new insights into Pedagogical Theory. Unfortunately, the uniqueness of each brain is often ignored in an effort to instill exactly the same knowledge in each student. Instead, teachers should apply their lessons with special consideration for the individual.

3 comments:

APUS Kristen said...

Jonathan,
What have you found to help your learning process? Out of all the studies do you think there is something you personally find to be true or false for yourself. I am writing a paper on how our environment affects our learning and would like to know your standpoint on a personal level. Please email me your thoughts. 4099407@online.apus.edu

david said...

I am currently working with a group of parents and teachers at local school to develop a nurturing environment for children who are struggling. We are looking at ways of using the environment in as many differnt ways as possible to meet a variety of needs. Also this article looks only at physical environments. There are a range of environs which impact on our function as "occupational beings," such as emotional, social and cultural. I would very much like to see more discussion on this subject as is an often overlooked issue in learning (in mainstream UK schools.)

david said...

Intersting post - what about emotional, social and cultural environments, which are often overlooked but expressed through our physical space. I would also add that an environment is not a static phenomena by complex interaction of skills, actions, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and identities (the list could go on.) In terms of learning, an environment needs to support and facilitate exploration and freedom. The Cambridge report on primary learning demonstrated that learning needs to be play based to a much later age than we (UK) currently advocate. I would suggest that "drilling" information into people is not full learning, it is meerly the stimulation of one cognitive process (memory) which plays an important role in deeper learning. This singular approach is perhaps derived from traditional approaches which were more about promoting dogma than freedom of thought. Many schools have their roots in faith and religion and as such these antiquated approaches have become entrenched in society.

But here's a thought, how can we embed learning into our broader environment? Can we make learning, understanding and expressing a part of the cultural and social landscape of which we are a part?