People learn best when…

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August 18, 2014 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin

I am currently completing an online course called ‘Leaders of Learning’. It is a free course delivered by an organisation called EdX – find their website here. I am going to write about my experience on the course at a later date, but I wanted to write about the final task I have been asked to do. The task was titled ‘Design Challenge: Human Factors and Your Ideal Learning Space’. In summary, we were asked to share our own personal ‘learning theories’ and design an ‘ideal learning environment’. I know that my ideas around learning are still developing and I am sure the ideas below will change with time and experience, but this is what where my thinking currently lies…


People learn best when…

  • expectations of learners are high.
  • they have easy access to knowledge in many different forms (e.g. physical – books, digital – internet, etc.)
  • they have input in to what is to be learnt and how success is going to be defined.
  • success criteria is clear to all involved.
  • they can discuss their ideas with others.
  • they can demonstrate what they have learnt to others.
  • they see the innate benefits of the pursuit of knowledge and do not aim for superficial rewards or gains.



I would plan any physical environment where I was going to lead learning to include the following:

A small lecture theatre-type area: I believe that direct instruction has an important place in learning. This direct instruction often, but not always, involves an ‘expert’ person such as a teacher. This space will often be used someone who has a ‘teacher’ role, but can also be used by learners to demonstrate to others what they have learnt.

A lab space: As a Science teacher a lab area is a vital part of my learning environment. I would however envisage that this lab area will not be orientated exclusively around scientific experiments, but could also be used for design in any form. This is a creative area for design and construction and can be equipped appropriately by the leaders of learning in that particular space.

Workstations: This area will contain desks that can be moved into numerous configurations allowing learners to work individual or in groups. This will be a busy area with lots of movements of people and furniture. Small details will be important like: having the area carpeted so sound of movement is reduced; having light, easy to move tables and comfortable, light, ergonomic chairs.

Gallery space: I am a strong believer in maintaining high expectations amongst learners and have been inspired by the work of Ron Berger and his ideas around ‘Ethic of Excellence’. One of the central ideas surrounding Berger’s ‘Ethic of Excellence’ is that learners work should be exhibited. If learners know that everyone is going to be able to see their work once it is complete, there is a greater incentive to achieve excellence. Having a permanent gallery space will enable learners work to be displayed at any stage of the learning process. This could be a useful tool for critique by other learners and could enable learners to refine their own learning in the process. This area could also be used to display agreed success criteria so that it can be continuously referred back to.

Reflection and reading area:  The final main section of my learning environment would be a quiet zone. This area would be an area designed for learners to reflect quietly on their learning or to quietly acquire further knowledge about the particular topic they are studying. This area would be equipped with comfortable furniture and a library of resources like journals, magazines, newspapers and a continuously updated collections of books.

Throughout the entire environment pupils would have access to tablet computers and regular paper and pens etc. Tablets would be used rather than laptops or desktop computers as these would enable pupils to move freely around the environment and work wherever is best for them at that particular moment in the lesson.


I would be interested to hear more ideas about peoples ideal learning spaces and any feedback about the ideas that I have presented above…


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