The week in the Future of Learning in a network world unconference has made me to rethink the issue of learning environments: what they are? How they should be? How they emerge or how we may build them?
This is a bit like coming home. Learning environments are anyway what I am interested in.
First thing first: What makes a learning environment? In the Finnish tradition of educational research learning environment means the integrated environment of learning where there are learners, teachers (or whatever you want to call the people facilitating the situation), participants psychological and social context, learning methods and practice as well as physical and digital artefacts and tools in time and space. It can be formal or informal.
As such there is nothing to do with modern technology. You may create a great learning environment just with a bunch of good people under a tree knowing what to do to reach new understanding on some topic. You don’t need books, paper or pen, nor mobiles or computers – just people who want to work together to make sense about their world. Bringing technology to the situation may actually make it un-learning environment that is simply making people stupid. Badly designed chairs and tables, annoying mobile phones and peeping computers make you loose your focus.
Use of technology in learning should always have a meaning in the process. If I don’t see the value of taking notes in the learning environment I shouldn’t do it. Either I shouldn’t promote notes taking with learners, if I as a teacher do not have an idea why it is done in the learning process.
Environments emerge or are made in time and space. In the case of learning the time and space where things are taking place should server the learning process. We come together – virtually or physically – to learn. We try to find the most suitable time and space for this.
Spaces can be open or closed or something between them. Decisions of making your learning environment open or close should be based on analyse which will most server the learning process. If your learners are aiming to have serious knowledge building that is aiming to higher level of learning results you may want to close your group – have some privacy. This is because this kind of learning requires that you also present your naïve hypothesis and bias mental models for your community of learners. You may rather do this when you have around you people who know you and your context, and can for this reason much better understand your thoughts. It also requires that you can trust that the people do not use your thoughts and ideas presented in there against you. You also need people – they can be teachers or your peers – who are seriously interested in to follow your development and scaffold your process of getting to the higher levels of understanding. To reach higher levels of learning you need closed learning environments.
The learning environment should be build by the learning community. Naturally in this case too there are existing expertises that can be used. It is possible that someone knows what is good for you.