Creating a positive learning environment first requires knowledge of the characteristics of adult learners and how they are different from children. This allows an atmosphere of respect to be cultivated, and allows a balance between learners feeling safe and challenged (see Bright Hub). This article by Susan Imel states that three components of a positive learning environment are trust, open communication and shared learning experiences. It outlines several helpful points:
- Acknowledging that adult learners bring a wealth of knowledge and experience is important
- Set the tone in the first few minutes of class about it being a safe and respectful space.
- With the help of the learners, setting clear goals and expectations at the start is essential.
- Group discussions and group work that allow people to share ideas are useful.
- Feedback should be given respectfully and not in public.
- Information and assignments should be relevant and interesting to the learners, allowing them to draw on previous knowledge.
TrainerHub adds a few other ideas for a positive learning environment:
- Use a positive attitude
- Teach topics that are interesting to you, as your passion will come through.
- Focus on the learner. Get to know their strengths and weaknesses.
- Use learning circles to build support and collaboration among learners.
- Appeal to the senses through visuals, sounds, colour and hands-on experiences.
Below is a video with tips from experienced teachers on creating a positive learning environment:
Another tool that creates a positive classroom is humour. According to this article by Wazner, properly used humour creates a better relationship between the instructor and learner, allows for more effective learning, controls stress and also makes the learner happier. Students rate classes and teachers that use humour as more memorial and influential. However, this article also says that poorly used humour has a negative effect on learning. Poorly used humour includes jokes unrelated to the material, sexual jokes, jokes picking on a student, etc. This article also found that those to which humour does not come naturally should think twice about forcing humour into their instruction.
These ideas will influence my own teaching in several ways. Many of these ideas, such as setting the tone at the beginning and creating a respectful space to learn, seem like methods I already use and probably have picked up on from previous positive learning environments. However, it is always beneficial to be reminded to purposefully include them. I like the idea of setting clear goals and expectations, as it always made me personally less anxious as a learner. In my own instruction, I will ask learners what their goals are and list them along side my own instructor goals at the beginning of class. I also appreciate the idea of collaborative learning and will try to include group work or discussion each day.
In terms of humour, I fell pressure to include more humour in my instruction, though this is not my natural talent. It is comforting to read the study that says it is better if I do not force humour and just use the natural (albeit infrequent) opportunities when the arise.