It is one thing to have a good theory of learning and a choice of appropriate teaching method, but it is quite another to implement the chosen teaching method successfully. As noted in the previous chapter, teachers and instructors may need a mix of methods, depending on the circumstances. This means deliberately planning methods of teaching and a broad learning environment that will facilitate the development of the knowledge and skills that are needed.
What is Learning Environment?
‘learning environment refers to the diverse physical locations, contexts, and cultures in which students learn. Since students may learn in a wide variety of settings, such as outside-of-school locations and outdoor environments, the term is often used as a more accurate or preferred alternative to a classroom, which has more limited and traditional connotations.
There is a tendency o focus on either physical institutional learning environments (such as classrooms, lecture theatres, and labs) or on the technologies used to create online personal learning environments (PLEs), but as the definitions quoted above make clear, learning environments are broader than just the physical components. They include the goals of teaching and learning, what engages or motivates students to learn, what student activities will best support learning, and what assessment strategies best measure and drive student learning.
Once again, though, there is extensive research and experience that point to the key factors to be taken into consideration in the successful implementation of teaching. In essence, we are talking about using best practices in the design of teaching – sometimes called learning design. The choice of components and their perceived importance will be driven to some extent by our personal epistemologies and beliefs about knowledge, learning and teaching methods. The preferred teaching method and epistemological position will influence which components of the learning environment get the most attention from a teacher or instructor. For instance, an instructor with a transmissive or objectivist view of teaching is likely to focus mainly on content and certain kinds of assessment tools, while a more constructivist or nurturing teacher will pay particular attention to learner characteristics (particularly their goals), and learner support.
A great deal of research on learning and instruction has recently moved out of the laboratory into the design of applications in instructional settings. By designing technology-supported learning environments instructional scientists attempt to better understand the theories and principles that are explicit in their theories of learning. The contributors to this volume examine how factors such as social interaction, the creation of meaningful activities, the use of multiple perspectives, and the construction of concrete representations influence the acquisition of new information and transfer.
In current developments for the design of instructional systems and environments for learning, two major streams of effort are influencing the cognitive principles on which learning theory and its applications are based. The first pertains to the advances in modern knowledge of human cognitive performance, which are providing a foundation for new descriptions of how learning occurs. The second is the work of scientists who are designing instructional settings; for many involved, this work is being carried out to improve education as well as instructional learning theory. Scientists come to better understand the theories and principles that are explicit or implicit in their efforts at development (Bruer, 1993).
We need to consider the implications of research, which shows that learning – and particularly learning and understanding science – requires the reorganization of prior knowledge, the revision of deeply held presuppositions and beliefs, and the creation of new representations. To do all that, we need learning environments that pay more attention to the constructive and creative aspects of human cognition – environments that encourage metaconceptual awareness, representational growth, and cognitive flexibility.