Creating The Ideal Learning Environment: Intellectual


Ideal learning environments don’t just happen, they’re facilitated by skilled trainers!

We think great training begins with the trainer’s approach. As trainers, we see every training event as an adventure to be carried out with a great sense of humour and an attitude of humility and wonder. We are simply learners who happen to have the additional responsibility of leading other learners. Paramount to our style is the acceptance of each learner as an individual and the recognition of their importance to the workshop process.

We have brainstormed and discussed ideal learning experiences with the many participants of the Capacity Train the Trainer workshops. We have been awed by the stories of personal learning experiences of participants throughout western Canada. From those shared anecdotes and discussions we’ve identified some of the things you as the trainer might do to create an atmosphere for ideal learning experiences to occur.

Keeping in mind the Medicine Wheel, we have now arranged the key points into four parts: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual environments. Our previous article was about creating the ideal physical environment – in this article we’re focusing on practical ways to build a healthy intellectual environment.

It is important to understand that we do not use the term “intellectual” to represent any segment of society or type of personality. Each person is a holistic being with an intellectual self that needs nurturing and growth, regardless of his or her ability to read hefty books or use big words. In our workshops we often have university graduates in the same group with participants who can barely read. We view the intellectual contributions and needs of each individual as equally vital to the learning process. “Intellectual” reflects a part of the essence of us all.

Here are ten points on creating a healthy intellectual learning environment:

1. Discover the participants’ intellectual needs and abilities early in the training. This can be done by using activities that encourage sharing and discussion and by asking the right questions. For example, an opening activity can include questions or discussion points that challenge learners to think and to discuss their thoughts with others. Asking participants to elaborate on their expectations or to identify what they wish to learn during the session helps to establish a positive intellectual learning atmosphere.

2. Use techniques that keep learners interested. For many adult learners this means using activities that keep them busy and challenged. It is more valuable for most adults to work through a problem and create their own solutions than to sit and listen to a trainer talk about how to solve the problem. Involve learners by using a variety of instructional methods such as simulations, case studies or role plays. Facilitate discussions and use questions that spawn new ways of thinking and viewing ideas. Encourage questions from your learners and model openness to new ideas and different attitudes.

3. Strive for clarity in all communications. In part this means using language that is understandable to the group. Large words or confusing phrases are not necessarily the most efficient way to convey a message to learners. It can also mean asking for clarification or to expand on a point that is vague or ambiguous. On your part, get learners to restate or paraphrase what they’ve heard or to confirm their understanding.

4. Be knowledgeable about the topics you are teaching: provide accurate information. It is also important to know that you don’t necessarily have to be “the expert” on all areas of your topic – it’s ok to admit when you don’t know about something, as long as you’re not doing it too often. If you can, get back to learners with answers to their questions once you’ve found them. Check your sources and be sure about the accuracy of the information you share.

5. Tell stories to illustrate points. This works well for most adults, and particularly so for First Nations learners who have handed down their culture and history orally for generations. Stories have a wonderful way of making the message personal and interesting.

6. Provide constructive criticism or feedback, after obtaining permission to do so. Model respect by using “I” statements, appropriate language, effective methods and by thanking participants afterwards.

7. Recognize different learning styles and learner preferences and incorporate them into the training. Some people learn more easily through visual messages, while others learn best by hearing. Many adults learn by doing. The three terms that describe these learner preferences are visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Consider the kinds of things that stimulate the intellectual mind and, when designing your training, their appropriateness to the audience. If you know for certain that many of your learners are kinesthetic, make sure you build in lots of hands-on activities. Generally it is a good idea to appeal to all learner preferences by incorporating a mix of auditory, visual and kinesthetic strategies and techniques.

8. Make it safe for learners to make mistakes. Use mistakes as learning opportunities, providing this can be done in a way that doesn’t threaten those who make the mistakes. Guide learners to reach their own conclusions from the learning, validate conclusions when they are accurate and adjust in a caring way when they are not.

9. Acknowledge that everyone is a teacher and a learner; display your willingness to learn from the participants. Each person has a unique perspective and wisdom to offer. By treating everyone as equals you’ll encourage sharing and enrich the learning experience for all involved.

10. Provide learners with strategies to implement their learning. Help them to focus on how to apply the learning both during and after the training.

In closing, learners who are stimulated intellectually are more likely to embrace and benefit from your learning adventures.

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