Building a good learning atmosphere

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10. Building a good learning atmosphere

Have a plan and be organised

  • Use the course outline as a constant guide for time management and direction.
  • Tell participants about the plan and stick to it
  • Let the group develop some rules for the course and their participation. These might include;
    • No mobile phones
    • Only one person speaking at a time
    • Time keeping
    • Start and finish times
    • Everyone must participate and no one should dominate
    • Every idea is worthwhile
    • Etc
  • Anticipate the difficulties, challenges and potential hurdles to learning and have a remedy or strategy to avoid them.

Prepare thoroughly

  • Get to know the material and the learning objectives of each part thoroughly.
  • Use your knowledge and experience to personalise and give added relevance to material. Start to ‘own’ the material.
  • Write down questions you want to ask, discussion streams and what you will do to illustrate particularly important or difficult concepts.
  • Think through each part of the course step by step. Imagine it happening, imagine the participants. Think about what they will need from you in order to do engage with the subject, complete activities and get the most out of the content.
  • Prepare every step by thinking through the timing, what you will say, how you will introduce the section, what aids you need, what additional information participants will need in order to fully work through an issue.

Create a positive learning environment

A training facilitator creates a good learning atmosphere by;

  • Preparing very thoroughly.
  • Listening patiently to participants.
  • Paying attention to detail.
  • Asking the right questions. Something which is critical in promoting real dialogue.
  • Setting up activities or discussions to support learning
  • Accepting that people don’t need him/her to tell them everything
  • Knowing that other people in the room have knowledge and experience which will enrich and help the group
  • Asking the right questions which
    • help people to go through their own thought processes
    • draw out what people already know
  • Never telling people anything which could instead be drawn out by asking the right question. Learners will think of ideas for themselves. Don’t spoon feed. Show, don’t tell.

Good training can have some or all of the following attributes:

  • Participative
  • Interactive
  • Facilitative
  • Flexible
  • Drawing on existing knowledge and insights
  • Active
  • Variety
  • Action/physical movement
  • Engaging the senses
  • Repetition and reinforcement
  • Fun or at least enjoyable
  • Practice and apply skills

Knowing about different learning styles and using teaching approaches that suit different learners is one way to maximize learning. In addition, instructors need to understand how adults learn best and how to create a positive learning environment.

There are three sets of factors that need to be accommodated to create a positive learning environment:

  • Physical factors
  • Emotional factors
  • Intellectual factors

Physical factors

Adults need to be physically comfortable or they can’t focus on learning.

The following factors help create a physically comfortable learning environment:

  • The room is not too hot or too cold.
  • The room is set up so people can see and can hear the instructor.
  • Lighting and amplification allow for people with reduced vision and hearing.
  • Allowances are made for fatigue: there are frequent activities so participants don’t have to sit too long; you take regular breaks.
  • The trainer is sensitive to the time of day, the mood of the class and levels of motivation in the group.

An instructor can respond to physical needs by:

  • asking students if they are comfortable
  • checking the body language of learners
  • being responsive to the time of day, need for breaks.
  • ensuring that they look at the room from the participants' point of view (ie stand and look from the back of the class)
  • ensuring there are as few distractions or interruptions as possible.

Emotional factors

Adults also have to be comfortable emotionally.

Adults have definite emotional needs:

  • To be treated like adults (They want to be peers with the instructor.)
  • To direct their own learning whenever possible (Adults are self-motivated. They are at the training because they chose to be, not because someone told them to come.)
  • To know they are doing it right (or at least that they are trying hard)
  • To feel accepted as they are (Adults come in all forms and styles.)
  • To see a reason for the training (Adults want to know how the training is going to make a difference for them.)

An instructor can respond to emotional needs by:

  • Being a learning resource, a coach
  • Explaining the benefits of the training (WIIFM: What’s In It For Me), then letting participants explore as much as possible (to discover the benefits for themselves)
  • Respecting them (not talking down to them)
  • Teaching to their level (not above or below)
  • Not embarrassing them
  • Providing meaningful reinforcement and opportunities for peer feedback (This is also a powerful reinforcement.)
  • Making learning non-threatening (This goes along with teaching to their level.)
  • Making the learning realistic and problem centred; using scenarios that are familiar and that they might encounter

Intellectual factors

In addition to needing to be physically and emotionally comfortable, adults have intellectual needs:

  • They have lived full lives and they want to share their experiences.
  • They want to connect new information to what they already know.
  • They want to be active participants in the learning.
  • They want to see the relevance of what they are learning.
  • They want to learn things the way they like to learn (through hearing or seeing or doing).

A good facilitator can respond to intellectual needs by:

  • Using the learners’ life experiences to introduce new concepts through questions and discussion
  • Building bridges between old information and new information with analogies, examples, and job aids.
  • Making the learning active. Include practical hands-on exercises, not just lecture and slides.
  • Using a variety of methods during the training to reach all the learning styles (e.g., lecture, discussion, role play, demonstrations, activities, games).