Join us: why modern training cannot do without cleverly-designed learning environments
21. July 2015
The following article highlights the key points training experts need to consider when creating a learning environment for their employees, and which pitfalls to look out for.
It takes more than interior decorators to make learning spaces inviting
For some, the term "learning environment" means merely the arrangement of tables and chairs or the colours of the walls in classrooms and training rooms - however, these are only a fraction of the possible ways in which learning environments can be made more attractive to their learners. Learning psychologists Gabi Reinmann and Heinz Mandl propose a breakdown of the concept into three categories. Within this breakdown, the learning process includes the teaching methods, the learning situation and cultural factors. They consider the following elements:
1. Teaching methods:
Which teaching techniques are used? What learning materials are referred to? Which media are primarily used?
2. Learning situation:
Where and when is the learning taking place? Is it solo or group learning? Who is the learning group made up of?
3. Cultural context:
What culture-specific values, needs and habits should be considered when designing the learning environment?
By breaking the term "learning environment" into its components, it becomes clear that there is a lot more involved than room decoration or interior design. Instead, we're looking at a complex setting which aims to cater as far as possible to learning media, learning goals and learning styles.
Why a content and target audience-focused approach to the design of learning environments should never be overlooked
It is important to understand the essential learning needs of adult students as, particularly for this group, the learning environment should never be left to chance.
First and foremost, these learners want to acquire handy, practical knowledge as quickly and efficiently as possible which will benefit them in their daily tasks and offer a direct added value. If the content and skills on offer also help learners to achieve their professional goals and career plans, this has a particularly positive impact on motivation. Adult students are not interested in learning purely theoretical content if the practical application of the content in the workplace is uncertain.
Before designing the learning media, it is important to define the exact aim of the training program and how the learning environment can help to achieve this goal. An example should illustrate this: In a large pharmaceutical company, the employees are going to receive a refresher course on how to deal with hazardous materials. The wrong way to approach this would be to make each student sit alone at a PC, reading long informative texts before answering multiple-choice questions on the subject of hazardous substances. Within such a format, learners would only acquire "inert knowledge" that they can access on a purely theoretical level but cannot put into practice. In this scenario, two of the courses main objectives would be bypassed completely. After all, students should learn how to act quickly in an emergency situation and how to integrate with their group and act properly and responsibly as a team. Therefore, rapid and spontaneous action during the critical situation itself and effective communication with colleagues under acute time pressure and mental strain are defined as key objectives of this training course. A range of course modes can be derived directly from these objectives to ensure the specific skills are practised during the training. In this particular case, a good example of a goal-focused training format would combine a PC-simulation game with a subsequent group-based role-playing game that takes place on the factory premises.
Particularly in the case of safety training, it is vital not only to ensure the participation of all employees being trained, but also to evaluate via simulated emergencies whether learners are able to translate theoretical knowledge into spontaneous, appropriate actions. In these cases, pure e-learning formats which only consist of reading long informative texts are not the answer -a modern LMS can definitively show whether learners have dropped out of the course, but not whether they would be able to put their knowledge into practice in a real situation. Formats which don't offer any classroom activities at all also fail to provide the extra motivation of joint learning and group discussions.
Which aspects should be given special consideration when designing effective learning spaces?
Despite the many pitfalls that can lurk in the planning phase of a goal-oriented learning strategy, the creation of a target-group and topic-focused learning space is, ultimately, not rocket science. A checklist of the most important issues can help to create an environment for learning which is not only effective, but also motivating and fun:
- Does my learning environment present a practical problem in an authentic way?
- Is my learning environment realistic enough to reflect the everyday workplace of the participants?
- Can the skills be transferred to different contexts (applications)?
- Is a situation being analysed from different perspectives?
- Does my learning environment involve team scenarios and the social contexts which are relevant to the problems solution?
- Are instructions and explanations used to guide learners through the learning process?
- Is the selected learning process coherent and comprehensible from the learners perspective?
Training professionals who can (honestly) answer yes to most of these questions are certainly on the right track and can then concentrate on getting the details right.