Learning Environments: Definitions, Types, and Characteristics
Do you think it’s possible to learn anywhere? Or, do you think that there are certain minimum requirements for an adequate learning environment? As a matter of fact, in reality, places (physical or virtual) where someone teaches, and another learns, go beyond the classic classroom scenario and also include digital and informal environments.
However what exactly are learning environments? Furthermore, what characteristics do they have and what types are there?
Learning environments are defined as scenarios where it’s possible to develop a teaching-learning process. They’re built with two main objectives. Firstly, to promote organized learning situations. Secondly, to create an ideal environment for students to establish a relationship with their teacher.
Organized learning is promoted through three key elements. Firstly, the resources or teaching materials, secondly, the management of student-teacher interactions, and, thirdly, the management of teaching time.
The main function of a learning environment is to promote meaningful learning. In other words, to ensure that the content taught is learned or acquired efficiently.
What should be considered when creating a learning environment? In addition, what characteristics should these spaces have? In this article, we talk about four essential elements.
When a teaching-learning process occurs, knowledge is being acquired (or at least, imparted).
Knowledge is the basis of all learning, whatever it may be. Furthermore, knowledge can be of all kinds and include both academic and informal elements. For example, one’s own life experiences.
The materials used to support the teaching-learning process also matter. By materials we mean, activities, readings, exercises, exams, virtual classes, face-to-face classes…
3. Organization of the space
If the organization of the space is good the learning will be as well.
For instance, the classroom should have adequate lighting and be well ventilated. Indeed, it should be organized in such a way that interactions between students and teachers are improved.
4. Address learning styles
To teach in an ideal way, teachers should be acquainted with the profile of their students. Indeed, it should never be forgotten that everyone learns at a different rate
Therefore, when promoting meaningful learning, it’s important to attend to the learning style of each individual student. However, in public schools, where there are so many students in each class, this is no easy task.
We all learn at different rates, have different interests, and live in very different environments.
Types of learning environments
There are four types of learning environments. These are physical, virtual, formal, and informal.
Physical learning environments
This is the classic classroom, the physical environment that surrounds the students. It’s usually a fixed space with set hours.
This is a space that allows interaction between students and teachers. It’s also known as the classroom context. The classroom encompasses the resources of the educational center. They must be adapted to optimize learning.
Virtual learning environments
These are becoming increasingly widespread. In fact, virtual learning environments are digital environments where learning processes are developed. They involve learning remotely, at a distance. In these environments, students learn thanks to the use of computers, tablets, or mobiles, via classes in virtual format.
Physical presence isn’t necessary for virtual classes. Indeed, students simply have to connect up online. They benefit from interactive and digital resources.
One advantage of these environments is that students have greater autonomy.
Formal learning environments
Formal learning environments are a broader concept. They involve institutionalized and structured education systems.
These environments are made up of public and private schools. They’re regulated by state institutions (ministries of education). The ministries are in charge of establishing what educational content will be taught (and what will not) at each stage of schooling (from preschool to university).
Informal learning environments
Finally, informal learning environments are another very broad concept. In fact, they encompass all those spaces beyond school, where a person learns. In these kinds of environments, there are no official study plans or teachers who teach a series of subjects. On the contrary, the student lives certain experiences, relates to their environment, and, ultimately, learns.
Some examples might be conversations with friends, visiting a museum, traveling, and attending exhibitions and conferences, or even going to the cinema or the theater.
As we’ve seen, learning environments are spaces, physical or virtual, that allow the teaching-learning process. Furthermore, there are several different types of these environments. However, they should all share certain characteristics and elements.
These shared characteristics include: content to be taught (or something to teach, even if it’s not formalized), someone to teach it, someone who “receives” it (the learner), didactic resources, and activities to enable the learning, as well as an adequate organization of the space.
“A mind that is stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr-