Resources on Adult Learning Environments

(Rodney D. Fulton, Roger Hiemstra)

Chapter Nine in

Creating Environments for Effective Adult Learning

Roger Hiemstra (Editor)

New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education

Number 50, Summer 1991

Ralph B. Brockett, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Alan B. Knox, University of Wisconsin, Madison, CONSULTING EDITOR


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ISBN 1-55542-255-1


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Considerable information is available pertaining to adult learning environments.

Resources on Adult Learning Environments

Rodney D. Fulton, Roger Hiemstra

The chapters in this volume contain information on various aspects of the learning environment. Some of these aspects focus on actions an adult educator can take to make changes or improvements in the environment, such as addressing a physical space limitation or trying to understand what an individual is experiencing as a learner. Other aspects focus on perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes, such as trying to understand how personal views about race, gender, or technology affect the activities of teaching and interacting with adults.

This resources chapter provides additional information on all of these aspects. Some resource suggestions cover quite concrete material where direct applications are possible in an adult teaching and learning situation. Other citations provide background information for the reader interested in analyzing and reflecting on personal views. Still other citations provide some basic understanding of crucial societal and cultural issues. Although some of the resources are most likely not the typical fare read by busy adult education professionals, we recommend a broad-based approach to studying the topics presented in this volume.

In addition to books, we cite several monographs and journal articles containing seminal information. Although there is some overlap, most of the references shown at the conclusion of each chapter have not been annotated here. We encourage readers to consult those sources as well in the interest of promoting greater self-understanding among adult educators. It our hope that critical reflection, dialogue, and knowledge development are stimulated by this volume.

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Agger, B. Socio(onto)logy: A Disciplinary Reading. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

While "heavy" in content (several sections require two or three readings for full comprehension), this book is a good source for the adult educator who is struggling to understand learning environments in the light of such sociological terms or concepts as positivism, heuristics, modernity, postmodernism, hegemony, hermeneutics, and radical feminism. Various authors with critical theory or Marxist views are discussed, including Theodor Adorno, Michael Foucault, and Jurgen Habermas.

Ashcraft, N., and Scheflen, A. E. People Space: The Making and Breaking of Human Boundaries. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1976.

The book examines how people use space in various contexts. The authors also provide some perspectives on how individuals' territorial views affect their uses of space. There are chapters on such topics as privacy, defense, crowding, and violence, which are important if we are to correctly and creatively use space for effective learning.

Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, N., Goldberger, L., and Tarule, J. M. Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. New York: Basic Books, 1986.

This book has perhaps done more than any other to "popularize" and help promote the new understanding that many women learn in ways different than those of men. Based on interviews with both students and women in professional roles, five distinct categories for "knowing" emerged: (1) a position of silence, subject to the whim of authority, (2) received knowledge from others, (3) subjective knowledge often associated with an inner voice, (4) procedural knowledge involving learning how to apply objective means for acquiring and communicating information, and (5) constructed knowledge where women view themselves as knowledge creators. Several ideas for fostering women's development in learning situations are presented.

Bulkin, E. Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism. New York: Long Haul Press, 1984.

This book provides essays from three feminists--Elly Bulkin, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith--who present Jewish, black, and white southern views on such topics as racism, feminism, lesbianism, and anti-Semitism. The book is especially helpful for the male adult educator struggling to understand various feminist views so he can improve his educational efforts.

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Castaldi, B. Educational Facilities: Planning, Modernization, and Management. (3rd ed.) Newton, Mass.: Allyn &: Bacon, 1987.

Written as a textbook for public school administrators, the process described in this book, from preplanning to postconstruction, actually is applicable to all educational facilities. Brief mention is made of extended uses of school facilities for other community uses.

Gilligan, C. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Gilligan was one of the first American authors to discuss distinctive developmental characteristics of women. Although focusing primarily on moral development issues, there is much in this book about adult development in general that the interested adult education practitioner should consider.

Gueulette, D. G. (ed.). Microcomputers for Adult Learning. Chicago: Follett, 1982.

This book was the first to present a comprehensive review of how microcomputer technology affects adult learning. A variety of chapters describe how the technology can be used in adult education. Several ideas and implications for designing effective learning environments with microcomputers are presented.

Lapides, F. R., and Burrows, D. J. (eds.). Racism: A Casebook. New York: Crowell, 1971.

This book contains fourteen essays and six short stories. Authors such as James Baldwin, Alex Haley, Ann Petry, John Williams, and Malcolm X present information or views related to racism, prejudices, and stereotypes. This book provides good background information, especially for white adult educators, on these topics.

Leed, K., and Leed, J. Building for Adult Learning. Cincinnati, Ohio: Leed Design Associates, 1987.

Taking a cookbook approach, the authors offer several specific examples, with written and photographic documentation, of how to design appropriate places for adult learning. Grounded in a systems approach to design, a five-step model of physical environment design goals is offered, including meeting creature comforts, creating a climate of trust and sharing, maximizing social contacts, enhancing high quality, and inspiring greater achievement. Although the authors are architects, they incorporate several basic principles of adult learning in their work.

Moos, R. H. Evaluating Educational Environments: Procedures, Measures, Findings, and Policy Implications. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1979.

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A model for understanding interactions between the individual and the environment is presented, incorporating three aspects: design of physical space, organizational attributes, and group characteristics. Moos suggests that these aspects of interaction affect the social environment, which in turn affects student participation, satisfaction, and living patterns. This book includes important information on the Classroom Environment Scale that is useful to adult educators.

Sleeman, P., and Rockwell, D. (eds.). Designing Learning Environments. New York: Longman, 1981.

The editors have attempted to compile a comprehensive work on the design of learning environments but admit that no single work can exhaust the topic. Cautioning readers that the single most important component is the learner, Sleeman and Rockwell include chapters on traditional topics such as site selection, noise factors, and financing; however, they also address technology, media, and staff training in relation to design. They suggest the need for learning environment consultants. This book is out-of print but worth the effort of locating it in a library collection.

Sommer, R. Tight Spaces: Hard Architecture and How to Humanize It. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-Hall, 1974.

This book contains chapters related to such topics as hard architecture, movable chairs, crowding, and sociopetal/sociofugal arrangements. Ideas for arranging learning environments are presented.

Takaki, R. (ed.). From Different Shores: Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

The editor brings together a wide range of contemporary essays on the nature and meaning of America's social diversity. Such questions as the following are addressed: How have the experiences of various racial minorities been similar and different? Is "race" the same as "ethnicity"? How has culture shaped race and ethnic relations? How can racial and gender issues be compared? This is an important book to read in order to increase personal sensitivity to racial, ethnic, and gender-based issues that affect the learning environment.

Tannen, D. You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York: William Morrow, 1990.

This book helps us to better understand some of the sociolinguistic differences between men and women that can affect learning environments. Recent research from linguistic and social sciences that indicates how women and men use language differently is included. Men see themselves as autonomous individuals, where conversations are attempts to achieve and maintain an upper hand. Women see themselves as enmeshed in a

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web of relationships that they want to maintain, and conversations are negotiations for closeness, confirmation, and support.

Book Chapters, Journal Articles, and Monographs

Finkel, C. "The 'Total Immersion' Meeting Environment," Training and Development Journal, 1980, 34(9), 32-39,

Using the training "meeting" as the unit for discussion, Finkel details the requirements for a successful meeting, one in which the learners can spend all of their time on task. He details the physical components that allow an employee to become a totally immersed learner.

Finkel, C. "Where Learning Happens." Training and Development Journal, 1984, 38(4),32-36.

While Skinnerian in his approach to the relationship of place to learning, Finkel acknowledges that both the leader's and the participants' points of view are vital in designing successful learning. He claims that the environment must support physical, intellectual, and psychological needs of both learners and instructors.

Fulton, R. Importance of Place to Adult Learning. Columbus: ERIC clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Ohio State University, 1991, (ED 324420)

This work summarizes the history of adult educators who have tried to determine the interrelationships between physical environment and adult learning. The document also highlights several attempts to bring the physical environment to the attention of adult educators in the United States. A comprehensive bibliography of architectural, educational, psychological, and sociological sources is included.

Goulette, G, "Physical Factors to Consider When Training Adults," Training and Development Journal, 1970, 24(7), 40-43.

This article deals with the concept that the declining physical abilities of aging learners should be accommodated through necessary alterations of the physical learning environment. The article concentrates on sight and sound but includes other factors to be considered when changing the environment to meet adult learners' needs.

Hayes, E. R. "Insights from Women's Experiences for Teaching and Learning." In E. R. Hayes (ed.), Effective Teaching Styles, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, no.43, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989.

Hayes presents a rationale for a feminist pedagogy and describes what the corresponding process should entail: collaboration in teaching and learning activities, cooperative communication styles, holistic approaches

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to learning, strategies for theory building, and action projects. She urges consideration of these strategies in the light of women's needs as learners, and appreciation of women's strengths and experiences.

Hiemstra, R., and Sisco, B. "Physical Learning Environment." In R Hiemstra and B. Sisco (eds.), Individualizing Instruction: Making Learning Personal, Empowering, and Successful. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990.

This article in the book's resources section attempts to be comprehensive in examining the physical environment, since the authors feel that it has been largely overlooked in the literature. Sections on anthropometry, ergonomics, proxemics, and synaesthetics are designed to raise adult educators' levels of awareness so that they can create learning settings that are maximally optimal for learning. Hiemstra and Sisco raise important questions but do not dictate answers. Rather, they give the readers tools with which to develop their own answers.

Hinton, B. "Set the Stage for Student Success." Lifelong Learning, 1985, 9(2), 29-30.

This short article offers concrete suggestions for achieving student success, such as adequate lighting, comfortable temperature, appropriate bulletin boards, informal seating, and the opportunity for individual study carrels. Rearrangement of the physical environment along with other suggested activities encourages success for all students, no matter how varied their individual needs.

Hugo, J. M. "Adult Education History and the Issue of Gender: Toward a Different History of Adult Education in America." Adult Education Quarterly, 1990, 41, 1-16.

Hugo argues that historians have marginalized or written women out of the historical narrative of the adult education field. She believes that historians must take a compensatory approach to women's marginal status and suggests that the interrelationships of gender, race, and class must be better understood. The adult education teacher who is interested in promoting an enhanced learning environment for all learners will find the article provocative and disturbing because of the many changes needed and their implications.

Kolodny, A. "Colleges Must Recognize Students' Cognitive Styles and Cultural Backgrounds." Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 6, 1991, p. A44.

Kolodny explains why educators must think about not only what they are teaching but also who and how. Although directed primarily at undergraduate teaching, she offers several ideas appropriate for adult education as well. She describes how high attrition rates for women in engineering

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courses were traced to teaching approaches that failed to account for the way women prefer to learn and discuss subject matter.

Lewis, M., and Simon, R. I. "A Discourse Not Intended for Her: Learning and Teaching Within Patriarchy." Harvard Educational Review, 1986, 56, 457-472.

The experience of most women in American society involves being silenced, even in classrooms. In this article a female student and male teacher describe and analyze the process of silencing that takes place in learning settings. Men and women, whether as teacher or student, must struggle to find a common voice, to promote equality in the learning environment, and to reduce the gender-biased societal power of men.

Luttrell, W. "Working-Class Women's Ways of Knowing: Effects of Gender, Race, and Class." Sociology of Education, 1989, 62, 33-46.

This article describes and analyzes how black and white working class women use knowledge. These women's perspectives challenge feminist views of a universal mode of knowing for women. Instead, the author suggests that complex power relations of gender, race, and class exist that shape how women think, learn, and know. For adult educators concerned with creating equitable learning environments, the author suggests that ethnic, class, and race issues specific to women's experiences must be carefully examined.

Verner, C., and Davison, C. Physiological Factors in Adult Learning and Instruction. Tallahassee: Research Information Processing Center, Department of Adult Education, Florida State University, 1971.

This monograph was written for practitioners attempting to translate research into useable information for adult educators. The physiological condition of learners, especially vision, hearing, psychomotor skills, and memory, are discussed with a goal of encouraging adult educators to manage the learning environment skillfully, to accentuate a learner's physiological capabilities, and to compensate for deficiencies.

Vosko, R. S. "Shaping Spaces for Lifelong learning." Lifelong Learning, 1984, 9(1), 4-7, 28.

This article is based on the dual assumption that adult educators must be concerned with providing learning climates that support learning and that the physical aspects of those environments are important. Vosko discusses two important elements of the physical environment: personal distances and seating arrangements. By showing how different spaces and arrangements can facilitate or impede interactions among learners, the author clarifies the interrelationship between physical arrangements and learning activities.

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Vosko, R. S., and Hiemstra, R. "The Adult Learning Environment: Importance of Physical Features." International Journal of Lifelong Education, 1988, 7, 185-195.

The authors review the literature on three topics germane to physical features of adult learning environments: ergonomics, anthropometry, and proxemics. While acknowledging that much more research is needed on these topics, Vosko and Hiemstra recommend that adult educators evaluate learners' needs in relation to the physical arrangements of the learning environment. The authors' aim is to encourage discussion and further research on this relatively unexplored subject.

Weinstein, C. "Classroom Design as an External Condition for Learning," Educational Technology, 1981, 21(8), 12-19.

Stating that the design of a classroom is secondary to curriculum and instruction, Weinstein nevertheless suggests that the teacher can at least control furniture arrangement, seating position, and classroom aesthetics, all of which seem to affect student behavior and attitudes. She reviews research on classrooms organized by territory versus those organized by function and discusses aesthetics, noting that there is very little research on the topic. She supports the concept that teachers and instructional designers need to develop environmental competence and suggests ways to achieve that competence.

White, S. Physical Criteria for Adult Learning Environments. Washington, D.C.: Commission on Planning Adult Learning Systems, Facilities, and Environments, Adult Education Association of the U.SA, 1972. (ED 080882)

Often quoted for the claim that 25 percent of adult learning is directly attributable to the physical environment, the author attempted to gather together what little was known from various sources. White suggests that physical arrangements need to contribute to an "aura of adulthood." The author addresses how several physical attributes can create a "feeling of ease, confidence, and capability." An annotated bibliography supports the document.

Readers also are encouraged to review various back issues of New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education for a multitude of chapters related to some aspect of the learning environment.

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Rodney D. Fulton holds master's degrees in psychology and adult and higher education. He is adjunct instructor in the Department of Education and staff member in the College of Nursing, Montana State University, Bozeman.

Roger Hiemstra is Professor Emeritus, Adult Education, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, and Senior Research Associate, American Distance Education Consortium.

July, 2006

-- Return to Roger Hiemstra's opening page

-- Return to the Creating Environments for Effective Adult Learning Contents page

-- Go to Editor's Notes, Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Ten, or The Index.