We Shape our Learning Environments, and then our Learning Environments Shape Us

While studying recently I came across a paper that was discussing the paradigm shift that has taken place in education. Previously pedagogy has focussed on the teacher: the scholarship of teaching. This lead to a behavioural focus, under the understanding that all learning would be an associative process and that controlling the teaching (cause) would affect the learning of all students similarly (effect) (Hannafin & Land, 1997).

The shift has brought us to a cognitive perspective, wherein the outcome of the educational experience is determined by the student, as an information processor. The emphasis has changed from cause and effect directed by the teacher to finding better ways for the student to process, elaborate and find meaning in the work they are doing. This is in line with Craik and Lockhart’s (1972) depth of processing model, as well as other frameworks such as the MUSIC model of academic motivation.

As I read about this, I thought about the processing vehicles that I use. I think this goes far beyond social media sites or the use of tools such as iPads. I believe the whole room in which you work affects your ability to process information. I struggle to work in the computer lab at the university. However, when I am at home I find I work a lot more effectively. This is due to the information processing devices I have set up in my room. I have a dual screened computer, a large desk and a whiteboard. There is space to lay out the paper and electronic material. Upon the white board there is space to jot down my thoughts as they come, and link them together. Perhaps most importantly of all, there is space to pace. I love to pace around my room, and to look out of my window at the sea and the cars below.

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It all fits together for a much more enjoyable and productive time. I contrast that with the university computer lab where there is often joking and laughter (often caused by me!) Where I have limited desk space, no white board and nowhere to pace. It is as if the emphasis of processing information lies completely inside the mind, wherein it bottlenecks, and is so fragile that small interruptions can cause ideas to disappear completely.

So there we have it. Humans are information processors. We learn through processing information that is meaningful to us. Perhaps universities could change their learning environments in this direction, however a setup like I have just described for each individual does seem unrealistic. They can certainly provide social learning environments for groups, however given that information processing is a student centred process, perhaps we the students should be building that for ourselves.

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