One of the most widely-held beliefs in the education community is that the individual should be shaped by the ideal learning environment, and the ideal learning environment environment should be shaped by the individual. Psychologists Lev Vygotsky and Carl Rogers, two of the most eminent developmental psychologists in the industry, both offered differing, albeit overlapping, ideas on what education ought to be.
Carl Rogers forwarded the idea that education was a process of “self-actualization”. In Rogers’ view, education should help people, children especially, learn how to initiate positive actions, think critically about issues and problems, constantly acquire knowledge about the world around them, adapt to situations as flexibly as possible, and utilize these experiences to contribute towards their social purpose.
Vygotsky, on the other hand, believed that the purpose of education was to develop individuals within their socio-cultural context. For Vygotsky, education meant teaching children how to think, behave, and act like the adults of their surroundings, with the assumption that their cultural context is a positive and benevolent one. By learning how previous generations thought and acted, children taught via Vygotskyian education would retain their culture’s unique socio-histo-cultural knowledge base.
Despite the difference in approach, a central theme to Rogers and Vygotsky’s theories are the environment that the students are in. If the environment is not suitable for learning, children will not learn how to self-actualize as Rogers believed, and they would also be unable to learn and pass on their culture’s unique knowledge, as Vygotsky believed.
Therefore, creating a space in which students can both learn from their culture and foster self-actualization is the ideal school environment. Modern psychologists and teachers have all put forward ideas to manipulate the physical space of schools to streamline and maximize their efficiency to help students acquire the knowledge they need.
Elements of the Environment
For this article, we’ve separated the numerous aspects of the ideal learning environment into three categories: Physical, Emotional, and Psychological. Each aspect, although distinct, also have overlaps that shape and inform each other,
The physical aspect of the ideal school environment involves not just the physical layout of the classroom and the school at large, it also involves other considerations that range from lighting and temperature to air quality and hygiene.
The outdoor space of the ideal school is wide, spacious, and with easily accessible auxiliary facilities like clinics and parking. Schools should also avoid construction projects during school hours. Covered walkways, safety rails, wheelchair ramps, and other safety considerations not only increase the physical security of the campus, it also encourages inclusivity towards People with Disabilities.
Schools with beautifully-maintained lawns and landscapes help create a relaxing and stress-free environment, not to mention encourage sports and outdoor learning. The ideal school should also have safety protocols that will protect the campus and the students from the threat of fire, earthquakes, and other accidents.
Outdoor spaces are as important as classrooms. Learning happens beyond the classroom and providing outdoor spaces that will allow students to socialize and develop other skills is a good way to do it.
Interaction is a critical element in learning. The capacity to interact with other students will help them gain confidence and boost communication skills. Have a playground and garden, for starters. Make sure that these spaces have staff watching all the time to ensure safety and to avoid accidents as well as bullying incidents.
A safe and supportive school is free from all risks of harm. It is hard work to maintain and run a school, but it is your duty to create an environment where students, parents, and the whole local community can feel safe and protected nonetheless.
The Ideal Classroom
Physical Considerations for the Ideal Learning Environment
The ideal classroom is a positive space that encourages learning and fosters interaction between students and teachers. Setting up the physical space of the ideal classroom goes beyond placing a table in front a few chairs. To foster learning, the ideal classroom must meet certain requirements that address the comfort and accessibility of students.
Desks in the ideal classroom should be arranged to foster freedom of movement. Allowing students to walk freely between desks encourages them to be more collaborative with each other, not to mention help them develop their communication skills and boosting their confidence levels.
Proper lighting not only ensures that students can clearly see their work, it also helps them maintain a positive psychological mindset, as poor lighting can make students feel uncomfortable.
Studies have been done regarding the ideal temperature for classrooms, and while the verdict is still out on a specific temperature, researchers have found that a classroom that is too hot or too cold can lead students to become distracted.
Cleanliness is also an important factor in the ideal learning environment. Having a classroom that is hygienic and free of dirt, grime, garbage, or unpleasant smells can help students focus on their lessons and their work.
By shaping the ideal environment, educators give their students the advantage of being in a space that is conducive to learning.
Emotional Considerations for the Ideal Learning Environment
Aside from the physical needs of students, schools must also meet their emotional needs. Teachers must be able to create a safe space for children to learn, facilitate social interaction between students, encourage a sense of community, and teach responsibility. This is on top of teaching whatever is on their lesson plans.
Children and teenagers are at a point in their life where new emotions are starting to form and surface. This transition can be difficult for some, resulting in internalized conflicts. Teachers must often be attuned to their student’s emotional needs and help them manage the various physical and emotional stress they’ll go through as they grow up.
Teachers must also be prepared to resolve conflict. As children grow up, they will learn how to properly deal with conflicts with their peers. However, at certain times, teachers must step in to facilitate how they deal with these conflicts.
The ideal school environment is bully-free. This kind of psychological harassment must be dealt with swiftly and immediately. Teachers must be aware of when a student is bullying and offer non-violent conflict resolution options and positively reinforce the victim. The teacher must then reprimand the bully without alienating them, as this would only encourage them to harbor resentment towards authority figures. Instead, teachers should encourage a rehabilitative and reformative type of discipline, one where they can teach bullies how to behave properly and to focus their energies on more positive behaviors.
Educators must be constantly aware of their student’s emotional health, and while it may be difficult at times, ensuring that they are emotionally cared for can go a long way to ensuring that they maximize their learning.
Psychological Considerations for the Ideal Learning Environment
As trained, professional educators, teachers must be able to create lesson plans and teaching methods that are easy to understand and minimizes the risk of creating emotional and psychological stress on their students.
One of the most effective ways of doing this is by creating a learner-centered environment. In a learner-centered environment, the focus of teaching and learning becomes a shared activity between teacher and student. In this way, students are given both choice and responsibility in deciding how they will learn their lessons.
The teacher presents lessons and information to students, but instead of focusing the class time in drilling that knowledge into students, the teacher creates activities that encourages students to discover answers and solutions on their own. This builds up their critical-thinking skills, not to mention hones their collaboration, social skills, and deepens their sense of community with one another.
A learner-centered environment also means that teachers must be able to create teaching methods that are flexible towards the individual needs of students. Often, a “one teaching style fits all” mode of thinking is detrimental towards the greater good of the students. Instead, teachers and educators must be able to teach in a variety of styles that cater to the visual, auditory, and kinetic senses of their students.
By finding different ways of teaching things, educators can maximize the amount of students they can teach without alienating students with different approaches to learning.
Class-Sizes and Student-to-Teacher Ratios in the Ideal Learning Environment
Studies show that smaller class sizes are more conducive to learning. Researchers don’t have an exact number, but anything below 20 students in one classroom is considered small. Small class sizes help teachers focus more of their time and energy on individual students, and students are more encouraged to collaborate with their peers and retain their focus, as opposed to larger class sizes.
The student-to-teacher ratio, on the other hand, refers to the amount of total teaching staff in relation to the total amount of students in a school. This ratio must be proportionate: too many students and not enough teachers means the existing teaching staff would be stretched thin, while too many teachers and not enough students means that the school is overstaffed.
To maintain the ideal school environment, the right number of teachers should be hired, and as much as possible, classes should be kept smaller in size, to maximize each individual student’s potential.
Beyond the physical aspects, the ideal classroom should also be conducive to the positive emotional health of students. Teachers should not only be skilled in their subject, they should also be empathic. Providing a learning environment means providing students with positive psychological and emotional support that will help them grow into high-functioning adults.