I’ve been creating some documentation on learning environment design for a workshop I’m doing in a couple of weeks at Learning 2011. Today, I was noodling over the criteria for a rich learning environment. Whether you are designing an environment for other learners, or paying attention to enriching your own learning environment, here are some test points to determine if it’s a thing of beauty.
In my framework, a learning environment is an aggregation of various learning components that is designed to support learners in self-provisioning materials, gaining access to people, and engaging in activities that are needed in order to learn in a specific arena.
Features of a rich learning environment
> To support high-impact learning outcomes, a rich learning environment promotes motivation to learn, contains high quality learning resources, and provides opportunity for application and feedback. There are a lot of features packed into this one bullet, but these relate to what we call the “learning equation” at work – we belive that learning impact is a product of those factors. If any of those factors are weak, than learning will be severely limited.
That first item – promoting motivation to learn – is the trickiest to achieve, I think. For the most part, motivation comes from within the learner, not from some activity in the learning environment. Still, an environment that is active, leading edge, and easy to engage may indeed spark excitement about learning.
> By definition, a comprehensive learning environment contains components in each of the major categories: resources and tools, relationships and networks, formal training and education, work-based programs and practices, and in-the-job action and reflection.
Each of these categories brings a different needed aspect of a robust environment. Resources and tools are useful for just-in-time learning; relationships and networks inject new thinking and provide a sounding board for new ideas; formal training provides the frameworks around which to organize thinking, work-based programs are often critical for feedback purposes; and in-the-job action and reflection is at the core of learning.
> A rich learning environment contains components most appropriate for the level of experience of the learner audience. Novices need access to documentation and structured skill-building resources as well as coaching and feedback. The more tenured and expert learners become, the more they need informal, personalized, and on-the-job learning.
When we design a learning environment, then, we should concentrate our energies on the kinds of resources needed by the type of learners we are trying to support. That’s why it is so important to define our learner group up front – otherwise, when we will have a difficult time prioritizing and making choices around what will be included and developed. A combination of learner group with widely varying levels of experience and a topic area that is too broad will make designing a learning environment a near impossible task.
> I think Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson are on to something with their conceptualization of the five moments of need related to performance support – and I would say that a robust learning environment has learning resources for all of the five moments of need. The moments when you need to turn to something in your learning environment are: 1) learning for the first time, 2) learning more, 3) applying what you have learned, 4) when something changes, and 5) when something goes wrong.
Checking whether you have learning components to address all of the five moments of need is another way of ensuring variety and depth in your learning environment.
On the mark?
These are the learning environment quality criteria I’ve come up with so far. The more of these features you are able to achieve, the more likely it is that your environment will meet the needs of your learners – no matter how widely varying those needs are within the context of the topic of the learning environment.
I would enjoy hearing comments – they will help me to fine-tune my discussion with folks at Learning 2011.