Creating a good learning environment can be the difference between failure and success. No matter whether you’re gaining educational or workplace knowledge, or a recreational skill, the location you are in, the methods you use and the culture and approach to learning can all determine performance, focus and memory.
With an estimated 30% of the UK workforce working remotely at least once a week in 2022, it’s clear that COVID-19 has had a big impact on our country’s working culture. Having a mixture of work settings means we’re having to learn and work in entirely different environments than we did before the pandemic began. From online learning to conferences, skills workshops and the everyday tasks that make up a working day, it’s incredibly important to ensure that you’re in an environment that is going to assist your learning as much as possible.
Building a good environment for learning is also important if you’re leading a training or development session. No matter the context, learners are going to better engage and participate if they’re in an environment where focus and creativity are maximised and they feel comfortable to share ideas and ask for help.
Whether you’re trying to update your home working environment or looking for advice on creating the ideal learning space for others, here’s some of the best advice on what makes a good learning environment.
‘Learning environment’ is a broad term that can refer to a culture, a context, an approach to teaching and learning or a physical location in which education and work take place. Whilst many people think of a school or university as a typical learning environment, learning can occur in a wide range of different contexts and settings. What works well for one learner may not provide the optimum working conditions for another, so effective learning environments tend to vary between people.
A variety of different components can make up a learning environment. As well as physical properties such as where you are learning, how the space is decorated and what devices or materials are being used to learn, elements like the activities and tasks being completed, the methods used to assess progress and performance and what kind of working culture is influencing the learning also form the environment.
Depending on your age, experience and the context in which you are working, learning environments can look very different. Whether you are constructing a space for yourself or trying to create a good place to learn for a group of others, it’s important to understand how an environment can affect your ability to focus, perform and share or absorb new ideas and information.
When you’re setting up an environment for yourself that is going to be conducive to learning, it will be incredibly helpful to implement routine into how and when you work there. When a learning environment is just a corner of your bedroom or kitchen then it can be easy to blur the lines between personal time and the time you spend learning or working, but if you don’t set boundaries then it can be very hard to get into the right headspace to work.
Our brains love routine and order, and establishing a routine within your learning environment will help you to focus and make you more productive in the time you have set aside to work. If you block out time in your day when you are going to be in the space you have created for learning and don’t use it for anything else, your brain will recognise the environment as a place where focus and productivity are required and help you to feel more motivated and engaged.
One of the key characteristics of a good learning environment is that distractions are kept to a minimum. It may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but you’d be surprised how many people set up a home learning environment in a place where there are plenty of external factors that are constantly catching their attention and stopping them from working well.
Minimising distractions in a learning environment can be as simple as making sure your phone or tablet is left in another room whilst you’re working or revising. You also want to try and reduce background noise, so choosing a space that is quiet or using noise-cancelling headphones will benefit your focus as well.
You might not be in a learning environment where a teacher or tutor is present, but you will still find that you work better if you reward progress and mark accomplishments that you make. You’ll be more motivated if you know that you have a reward coming at the end of completing a task or reaching a milestone, and it helps to break up repetitive learning or revision.
Rewarding yourself can be as simple as giving yourself a ten-minute break after a certain amount of time focusing or watching an episode of a television show when you reach the end of a task, chapter or assignment. It can also be motivating to share your successes with others virtually or just with the other people in or around your learning environment, such as housemates or family members.
Another element of a good learning environment that will help to mix things up and keep you engaged is to vary the approaches to learning that you use. If you’re being set tasks by someone else then this will hopefully provide some variety, but when it comes to revising or revisiting material, changing the way that you review and retain the information can help to prolong and improve focus.
Examples of varied approaches to learning include different ways of taking notes such as bullet points, mind maps and summary sentences, listening to audio content or watching video content instead of just reading, or discussing what you have learnt with another person as a way to cement the information in your brain.
In the same way that rewarding yourself can lead to a more effective learning environment, setting yourself personal targets can also provide more structure and motivation. You’ll likely have overall goals as part of whatever learning program you are undertaking, but even setting yourself small goals at the start of every day will help to break down the work that needs to be done and give you reasons to celebrate or reward yourself throughout the day.
When you are working with a group of learners, no matter what their age, you need to create a learning environment where support is a key part of the culture. Individuals are not going to want to share their ideas or ask for help if they feel that they are not supported by the people around them, so you need to establish this from the start and ensure that everyone feels supported by you and their fellow learners.
It can be useful to provide mentors or support systems within a learning environment to ensure that help can be given when needed on a peer-to-peer basis. At the very least, demonstrate with your words and actions that you are always willing to help your learners and encourage asking for help whenever it is needed.
Rewarding good work, effort or progress is one of the most important characteristics of a good learning environment. Learners respond much better to positive praise than negative feedback, and you’ll create an environment that has a much more positive atmosphere if you make constructive and optimistic feedback a part of the culture.
Even if a learner has made a mistake or is struggling to progress, try and give them feedback that highlights what is working well or at least motivates them to keep trying.
In a good learning environment, you should ensure that your learner’s efforts are recognised and share successes with others so that recognition can be gained. You should also work to give everyone positive feedback no matter what their progress or level of understanding is as this helps to keep the learning environment fair and motivates everyone as well, as keeping them feeling appreciated.
A feeling of safety and security is at the heart of a good environment for learning. As human beings, we cannot perform at our best when our basic needs are not being met, and one of the most important of these is a feeling of safety and security.
This is a particularly relevant aspect when the people in the learning environment are younger or less experienced, as feeling supported is an essential part of good performance when learning. As well as the obvious aspects of physical wellbeing, feeling welcome, respected and cared for are all elements of an environment that are conducive to learning.
This is another technique that is particularly relevant when the learners you are working with are children, but is still a very effective part of a learning environment for adults as well. Information is more likely to be retained if it is learnt in a fun and engaging way, so using creative learning strategies will not only make your learning environment a more positive space, but will also help your learners to remember the content better.
Changing up the strategies that you use to teach will also keep your learners engaged for longer, as they’ll be using different skills in the different tasks they do and won’t switch off or get bored.
Creating a positive learning environment is an important part of ensuring that learners are going to be able to effectively engage with what they are being taught in a place where they feel safe and supported. Setting up the right environment means that distractions are minimised and creativity and curiosity are encouraged, providing the optimum conditions for retaining information and making connections.
Without a good learning environment, learners are likely to lose focus or feel as though they cannot contribute, both of which lead to less effective work.
Multiple pieces of research have found a positive correlation between the quality of your learning environment and how enthusiastic, engaged and motivated you feel to learn. Things like lighting, noise levels and even the colour of the room you are working in can all affect how effectively you work. So it’s important to optimise your space as much as possible if you want to learn and work well.
Specific characteristics of a good learning environment can vary depending on the context, the learners themselves and the content that is being taught. However, overall elements such as minimal distractions, a clear routine, a positive atmosphere and varied approaches and formats of teaching are all elements that have been proven to improve performance and facilitate effective learning.
If you’re looking to learn more about creating a positive learning environment, take a look at our Leadership and Management online training resources, which cover a variety of relevant topics related to leading and teaching others and personal effectiveness in a variety of contexts.