Creating The Ideal Learning Environment: Physical


Have you ever wondered what it is that creates an ideal learning environment? We have brainstormed and discussed this topic with a number of different groups of participants in the Capacity Train the Trainer workshops. From those discussions we’ve identified some of the things you as the trainer might do to set the tone. We have arranged the key points into five categories: Physical Environment, Communication, Training Aids, Encouragement and Classroom Management.

In this article we’re focusing on the Physical Environment. What can you do as a facilitator so that participants have the best physical environment?

1. Ensure the air quality is healthy.
This means having adequate ventilation and designating an area outside the classroom for smoking. It also means adhering to WHMIS guidelines and requirements when working with equipment such as chainsaws.
2. Schedule an appropriate number of breaks and be willing to adapt to the learners’ needs.
Determine if any of the learners in your group have physical challenges that limit the amount of time they can sit or stand and factor this into your activities. It is also effective to design and use activities that incorporate movement, variety and changes of pace.

3. Ensure that learners are comfortable.
Observe body language and don’t hesitate to ask participants if you are unsure whether they are comfortable. Putting on a coat or repositioning chairs can both indicate unease. Hard seats, crowded tables or a pace that is too slow or too fast can all have a negative effect on learning.

4. Provide healthy foods that energize learners.
Be aware of the effect of different foods on the metabolism and consider this when planning your sessions. A heavy lunch may be appropriate if your learners will be doing hard physical work afterward. The same lunch might create a serious lull in the energy flow if participants will be involved in less vigorous activities following the lunch. A variety of snacks and beverages give participants the ability to eat and drink as they feel the need.

5. Ensure the room has effective lighting.
Ideally, the area will offer lots of natural light as well as the ability to control the amount of light for different purposes. You may want to turn the lights down to view a video or turn them up for livelier activities. In our experience, most locations offer some lighting challenges. With a little creativity we are always able to make it work.

6. Ensure that your personal hygiene is not offensive to others.
This means not slathering on too much perfume or after-shave lotion and wearing a quality deodorant. It also entails being aware that conditions such as temperature fluctuations or nervousness might cause sweating. Take special precautions when it comes to breath. An ounce of garlic with lunch might just sabotage a pound of well-planned learning activity.

7. Allow a large enough room to move around in comfortably.
Although you might get away with squishing people together for short periods of time, limited space can soon have perfectly functional adults acting like caged rats. It can be very agitating to have to clamour over other learners or their “stuff” to get into one’s chair. Small group activities seem to function best when each group has ample space in which to operate.

8. Make safety a priority.
Depending on the type of training you are providing this can include a broad range of concerns, including:

* Being aware of and respecting individual’s personal space.
* Ensuring adequate lighting in the classroom and related areas.
* Securing electrical cords to the floor with tape.
* At night, making sure everyone is aware of any parking lot concerns and perhaps encouraging a buddy system if there are any potential threats.
* Ensuring that all participants wear proper safety gear for the activities.
* When conducting activities in the forest, knowing the wildlife you may encounter and planning how to deal with them ahead of time.
* Being aware of and adhering to regulations and practices pertaining to food safety.
* Being clear on your policy with regard to substance abuse.
* Having effective communications equipment for field activities.
* Using safe transportation to and from field sites and ensuring the drivers are qualified to carry passengers and that their licenses are valid.
* Wearing proper dress and gear for different seasons and weather conditions.
* Having the required first aid, fire and safety equipment on-site.
* Being aware of and adhering to any safety regulations and practices with regard to any heavy equipment such as tractors or helicopters.

9. Limit or eliminate outside distractions.
It may be effective to close the classroom door or windows if there are distracting noises or activities outside the classroom. In one community our classroom was situated so close to the railway track I swear the water would vibrate right out of your glass each time a train passed by. We were able to work around this distraction by either calling a break or assigning a brief individual activity during the entertaining interlude.

10. Allow for quiet/private time.
As alluring as it is to design lessons that involve lots of physical movement and activity, it is important to build in time for individual thought and reflection on what is being learned. This can take the form of special assignments or short segments of quiet or private time within other activities. Either can work well – at least until a train passes by.

In closing, physical distractions have the potential to dampen your efforts to build an ideal learning experience. By paying attention to the details above you can limit the risk of serious liability and increase your chances of success.

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