PHYSICAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
[This chapter is adapted, in part, from Vosko, R., & Hiemstra, R. The learning environment: Importance of physical features. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 7, 1988, 185-196.]
One situation that every instructor faces is how to establish an optimal environment in which adult learners can thrive and the instructional process can be made most successful. Because adults entering a training setting, formal classroom, or self-directed learning activity come with a variety of needs, differences, and expectations, the learning environment must be able to accommodate such variety. This chapter describes some of what is known about the physical environment and suggests how an instructor can create an optimal setting for adult learning.
We recognize that an environment includes social, cultural, and psychological elements as well as physical features, but we have chosen to concentrate on the latter in this chapter because they are frequently overlooked, misunderstood, or taken for granted. James (1986) suggests that many learners may believe they nor instructors have much control over the physical surroundings. It has been our experience, though, that some control over the physical learning environment will reap great benefits for both learners and instructors.
We know, too, that our choice to call what we are discussing in this chapter the physical environment may be confusing to some readers. For example, Tagiuri (1968) discusses some similar concepts in describing what he calls the organizational climate. Sommer (1970) calls this area the ecology of study areas. James (1986) simply uses environment when referring to aspects of the physical setting. Knowles (1980) and Knowles and Associates (1984) refer to some physical environment elements in discussing physical comfort, climate setting, and classroom arrangements. Knox (1986) talks about arranging facilities, equipment, and materials for adult instructional purposes. There are no doubt other words you and your instructional colleagues can use in describing such elements, but for our purposes we have combined them all within the physical environment label.
What We Know About the Physical Environment
A major goal of most instructors in facilitating learning is to use effective organizational arrangements and interaction processes. This goal, coupled with growing knowledge regarding self-directed learning interests and the importance of maximizing learner inputs suggests that it is important to establish a learning
climate that enhances learner commitment. We believe that such environmental features as flexibility, attractiveness, comfort, and utilitarianism are very important in optimizing the learning that takes place.
White (1972) even estimates this importance pertaining to an impact on the learning: " . . . general estimates indicate that while about seventy-five percent of learning is accounted for by motivation, meaningfulness, and memory, the remaining twenty-five percent . . . is dependent upon the effects of the physical environment. In general, therefore, the success of adult education is dependent to a considerable extent upon the facilities and environment provided for the learner." (White, 1972, p. 1)
James (1986) found that learners ranked his environment category last in its impact on learning satisfaction. We think that even if the impact is less than twenty-five percent or not ranked high in the minds of learners, it still is worth understanding what you can about the physical environment. Understanding the environment and knowing how to affect it in positive ways can help learners come to appreciate its importance.
We believe there are several reasons why the physical environment for adult learners often is neglected, little understood, and largely ignored in literature related to instructing adults. This includes such factors as the following: (a) Adult learning activities often take place in spaces designed for other activities and age groups (although we believe this is changing); (b) many who participate as adult learners or instructors frequently do not perceive there are serious physical environment problems; (c) budgets for adult learning activities seldom include improvements for the physical environment; (d) many administrators and instructors do not feel it is their responsibility to ensure that learning environments are prepared adequately; (e) those who do feel responsible may not feel competent enough to prepare the settings properly; and (f) those who wish to do something about the environment do not know where to begin (Vosko & Hiemstra, 1988).
Fortunately, there has been at least some attention to this area in the literature. For example, in the mid to late fifties some interest in the learning environment began to be described. A Commission on Architecture in the United States published a document (Adult Education Association, 1956) containing photographs and floor plans depicting several buildings constructed to accommodate adult learning. Another Commission document reported on a national conference on architecture for adult education (Hunsaker & Pierce, 1958) and a summary of a national survey on physical facilities was produced (Clark, 1958). The New York State Education Department about the same time (1958) produced a report on facilities and environmental needs of adults for use by educational planners and architects.
In 1960 the New York State Education Department produced another report describing various educational programs for adults and several corresponding needs for school plants. The report called for new rooms such as lounges to "accent informality and offset inhibitions arising out of past educational experiences" (p. 9). Community education specialists have long urged that community school facilities be equipped with such special rooms for adults and furnishings that will be acceptable for adult as well as non-adult uses (Educational Facilities Laboratories, 1979; Hiemstra, 1985a).
Another study examined the inadequacy of adult learning in the United States: ". . . to a very large degree adult education procedures in America are still carried on in hand-me-down or makeshift surroundings, an environment so primitive and meager that the creative imagination of the user is almost completely inhibited" (Becker, 1960, p. 156). Fulton (1988b) describes a few other efforts since 1960 that in some way look at the physical environment. The expansion of community education, community college, and organizational training efforts in the past 30 years have helped to improve facilities in many settings, but considerable improvements still need to be made.
Knowles initial publication of Modern Practice of Adult Education in 1970 (updated in 1980) perhaps did more than any other source to focus attention on the actual setting in which adults learn and to help instructors and administrators begin thinking about needed improvements. White was among others about the same time to begin calling attention to facility deficiencies in this 1972 expression of concern about a lack of dedicated adult learning space:
Adults are often physically uncomfortable in child size furniture, and they are psychologically uncomfortable in traditional classroom settings which emphasize the distance and inequality between teacher and student. (p. 3)
Kidd in 1973 also made some suggestions about the environment for adult learning: "Luxury is not required, but comfort, excellent illumination without glare, absence from disturbing sounds or movements, provide a setting in which the chances for effective learning are increased" (p. 233). The Council of Education Facility Planners then published a guide for adapting educational facilities to adults: "With extended use of the school and the growth of the community/school programs, the age of the school users has expanded. The necessity for
accommodating persons of many ages has suggested that perhaps the lighting standards recommended for learning environments based on needs of children and younger adults should be reexamined in light of an older group of users" (Council of Education Facility Planners, 1976, p. I-6).
As Fulton (1988a) notes, perhaps one of the most widely researched environmental issues is that of seating arrangements. Becker, Sommer, Bee, and Oxley (1973), Koneya (1976), Sommer (1967), and Stires (1980) are among the people carrying out such research. However, this area and many other learning environment features need more research and discussion beyond what has been presented in educational literature to date. This involves understanding much more about such topics as easy access and egress, color, light, acoustics, and temperature. There also are several "hidden dimensions" (Hall, 1966) of instructional settings frequently overlooked. No doubt, many of these less obvious factors can affect learning activities in various ways.
To facilitate some of that research, we present some information that we believe is relevant for adult instruction. This material is centered around four areas: (a) Anthropometry, (b) ergonomics, (c) proxemics, and (d) synaesthetics. Much of the information actually comes from outside educational circles, but we have either applied the concepts and ideas in our own instructional efforts or have discussed the potential implications with various colleagues.
Adults have various learning needs and expectations. Adults also come in different shapes and sizes. All of these facts have relevance in determining what kinds of spaces and furnishings are needed in meeting learning needs. Anthropometry is concerned with this as it involves the study of various human dimensions important in the design of furnishings and equipment that will be used in some space (Branton, 1969; Croney, 1981; Damon, Stoudt, & McFarland, 1966; McCormick, 1976; Murrell, 1965).
For example, seat comfort, size, and arrangements are natural areas of concern. Some adults will have lower back problems that necessitate certain kinds of seating support if discomfort is to be reduced. Some people cannot sit for long periods of time in a chair without padding or in one that prevents the frequent crossing of legs to relieve pressure on knees or other joints. During a long lecture, any disturbing
features of a seat may reduce the listener's comprehension or involvement (Branton, 1969, p. 323).
Croney (1981) agrees with such problems and notes the following: "Sitting can be a tiring and painful business on a poorly designed seat. A good seat should allow for movement or a change in the sitting posture; there must be space for easement to maintain the best sitting posture for a lengthy period, but there should be enough control from the seating surfaces to effect the relief of body weight and give a sense of security. "(p. 116)
Seat size and shape is a problem in many learning sites. Adults often are required to sit in seats originally designed for much younger people. Even in training settings where only adults participate, attractiveness or how something fits into an overall decor may have been the primary criteria used to select seats. Damon, Stoudt, and McFarland (1966) believe seat height above the floor measured vertically to the sitting surface front is a major determinant of comfort with many seats being too high. Generally, tall people can accommodate to low seats easier than short people to high seats. They also believe that most seats should be flat rather than shaped because of the varied conformation of the human buttocks and perineal regions as well as difficulties in changing positions or even crossing one's legs in a shaped seat.
Huchingson (1981) has also studied the benefits of various seat types. He believes that "seat pans, whether upholstered or solid material, should be slightly contoured at front without seam or ridge" (p. 273), as they might provide pressure points that will be problematic over time for some people. Branton (1969) has looked at similar problems in chairs and recommends that cushioning be used to relieve pressure points, spread the sitter's load over wide areas of the seat pan, and provide such support that the sitter's sliding into a slumped posture is counteracted. Cushioning and fabric covering often provide some absorption of perspiration in warm rooms or humid climates.
Murrell notes it "is the requirement of good seating that the person sitting in a seat should be able to maintain a good posture which will not cause overstrain of any particular group of muscles . . . [and] cause fatigue" (1965, p. 143). Bennett (1977) believes it possible to provide seats satisfactory for all adults by making them (a) large enough to accommodate most people, (b) adjustable, or (c)
in several sizes so that a proper one can be selected by a given person.
Certain furniture can even serve as hazards for people (Scheflen & Ashcraft, 1976). This includes furniture that is too heavy for easy moving to small group discussion settings, a piece of furniture that may collapse if a person accidentally leans on it the wrong way, or furniture with sharp edges on which a person can bump a leg or snag a piece of clothing.
A truly barrier-free environment goes beyond just selecting furniture. It also must provide for easy access to any space to be used for learning. Many building interiors and furnishings inhibit mobility and accessibility for handicapped and elderly learners. The Council of Educational Facility Planners (1976) offers criteria for the selection of furniture and equipment for "average" people (p. J-3) and "disabled individuals" (p. J-9).
Related to how learners use space for particular activities, Huchingson (1981) talks about writing and suggests that tables are better than chairs with the desk attached even though they take up more space. He notes that in small classes, slightly "oblique" tables "improves eye contact between students seated at one side" and that "round tables are optimal from this standpoint" (pp. 259-260). From our experience, it also is necessary to think about the shape and nature of desks or chairs in terms of placing them into circles (or squares) for large or small group discussion and to provide adequate space for writing or holding personal resource material. Knirk (1979), provides another piece of advice when thinking about desks or tables related to the available writing surfaces by offering a reminder: "Don't forget the left-handed students" (p. 102).
You have probably heard this term used frequently in television commercials during the past few years when ad announcers describe something as ergonomically correct for a particular target audience. Ergonomics is used in reference to human factor engineering and is related to the design of spaces and things within those spaces (Bennett, 1977; Burgess, 1981). The comfort of those who occupy a space or use a particular piece of equipment is what is involved here.
Research in this area has lead to the design of spaces and things which are pleasant to people. Such design, engineering work, and even arrangement of appropriate spaces can provide some complex situations in which solutions are sought. Fortunately, adults have considerable flexibility and "are designed to survive within a quite limited range of the possible environmental conditions" (Bennett, 1977, p. 85). Altman (1975),
Canter (1975, 1977), Heimsath (1977), and Krasner (1980) also have contributed insights related to design needs.
Most instructors will have to work with varied class sizes and many will desire to utilize a variety of learning activities in their work with adults. Thus, the employment of ergonomic principles can be helpful in various ways. The size of the initial space for learning is a good example. How often have you found yourself assigned a space too small or large for the participants with whom you must work? Farbstein and Kantrowitz (1978) describe this dilemma this way: "A space can be too small, cramping and hindering our performance. But a space can also be too large, leaving us feeling lost and insignificant or too far away to see and hear well. The best size spaces are those which are comfortable for the activities we perform in them" (p. 36).
What can you do about such a situation? We hope by making you more aware of concepts like ergonomics you will work to ensure that you are assigned the right size of space or will attempt to obtain a different area if it is determined that the initial space does not meet the learners' needs or might provide for some discomfort. Huchingson (1981) notes the importance of room size and specifications being determined by program activities. Steele also talks about room size and shape in relation to participation and suggests room dimensions "must vary with the particular people and activities for which they are used" (1973, p. 15).
For example, there will be times when you desire to foster a friendly or very informal setting. This may require a small, cozy room. You also may want to consider what we often do and that is to find additional rooms that can be used for break-out discussion groups where a "small group" setting can be fostered and where the noise level from one group does not become uncomfortable for others involved in similar discussion. On the other hand, "lack of a large enough meeting room to get a whole group together will [also] deter the development of a sense of community in that group (Steele, 1973, p. 115). Here, too, in addition to seats and possibly tables that are designed appropriately for adult learners you need to think about the ease of moving them for small or large group discussion activities.
The actual shape of a learning environment also can become an important factor as you work to create certain kinds of optimal learning conditions or to promote certain relationships among learners. Narrow rooms or auditoriums with lecterns on a raised platform will work for some learning sites, but will not for many others.
Sheer size and vertical relationships are not the only factors dominant in establishing a relationship between speaker and audience. Think of the plain shapes of an auditorium. If your purpose is simply to lecture to sponges, then adopt the narrow wedge or the straight row
of seats. If, however, you seek discussion and interchange between members of your audience, then think of the semi circle or even the two-sided British House of parliament where your listeners are related to each other as well as to the speaker. (Will, 1958, p. 66)
Thus, the size and shape of classrooms and furnishings affect the participation of all learners with whom you work and we recommend your become concerned about these aspects.
One of the most significant contributions to the design and use of space has been in what is called proxemics, a word Hall (1966) associates with the study of how people use space. He defines it as "interrelated observations and theories of [people's] use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture" (p. 1). Hall (1974) urges us to think of an environment being made up of more than just the physical setting. He describes several important proxemic features, including posture, body orientation, gestures, eye behavior, olfaction, thermal code, and seeking or avoiding touch.
Hall (1974) believes there are basically three aspects of space about which we should be concerned: fixed-feature, semi-fixed feature, and informal. Fixed-feature space, such as a room full of seats attached to the floor, is a standard and often used way to organize individuals and groups. Semi-fixed space, such as movable desks, tables, and chairs, can be rearranged to suit an instructor's or group of users' needs. Such space features also can encourage or discourage participation, depending on how well designed they are in terms of learning objectives.
Informal space is determined by what Hall calls the "distinct bounds" (1974, p. 112) people create for themselves. Steele (1973) suggests that there is still another category that he would call pseudo-fixed feature space. Space of this nature has easily moved or changed components, but that still has a somewhat permanent look, such as a seminar, conference, or board room. Thus, in choosing a physical setting for adult learning it is important to understand how different settings function and how the people that occupy this space define space boundaries.
In 1959 Osmond described two distinct settings, sociofugal and sociopetal, that have relevance in considering proxemic arrangements for adult learners. Hall (1966, 1974) and Sommer (1969) subsequently have written about these two settings. Sociofugal patterns are designed to discourage interaction among
people, such as an auditorium or classroom where the chairs are arranged in rows. This setting is used when the instructor wishes to direct learners' attention to the front of the room or to the instructor who is using a lecturing technique.
The sociopetal setting orients learners toward a central focal point, usually toward each other, such that interaction and conversation are facilitated. A typical sociopetal learning pattern is where chairs are arranged in a circular setting or tables are joined together in a large square with chairs for learners around the outside edges. The sociopetal setting is often preferred for adult learning activities. However, Hall (1966) urges us to remember that "what is sociofugal in one culture may be sociopetal in another . . . What is desirable is flexibility and congruence between design and function so that there is a variety of spaces, and people can be involved or not, as the occasion and mood demand" (p. 110). Canter (1977) notes, too, that in sociopetal settings discussion is encouraged, whereas in sociofugal settings the people in the front rows are more likely to interact with the instructor than those in rows further back.
Sommer (1967) points out that most learning sites are "still designed with long, straight rows facing the instructor's desk" (p. 489), even though in much of the literature there is support for square or u-shaped seating arrangements. He suggests that there "is no single best arrangement for all classroom tasks. For individual study, a sociofugal arrangement that minimizes eye contact may be preferred, while in small-group discussions a circular or sociopetal arrangement may be best" (p. 502)
Proxemic studies also have been aimed at the location of occupants in space, including such features as distance, crowding, privacy, and territoriality (Aiello, 1976; Altman, 1975, 1977; Ashcraft, 1976; Edney, 1976; Fischer & Byrne, 1975; Haber, 1980; Henley, 1977; Insel & Lindgren, 1978; Levanthal, Lipshultz, & Chiodo, 1978; Pastalan, 1970; Scheflen & Ashcraft, 1976, Vosko, 1984, 1985). For example, in adult learning activities where some emphasis is placed on group interaction, distance between participants can be an important consideration. Some suggest that aggressive and territorial defense could influence the nature of human interactions (Edney, 1976; Henley, 1977). We have observed this in the "herd" instincts of most learners who return to the very same seats meeting after meeting, many of whom appeared frustrated or angered when someone intrudes on this "personal" space.
Some of these learners simply wish to join friends or colleagues from prior courses, so the instructor must be sensitive to this in that rearrangements of groups or seating orders could have negative affects.
Even though some learners do select seats because of a herd instinct, desire to be with friends, or, perhaps more simply out of habit (Jones, 1975; Sommer, 1967), Steele (1973) suggests that certain settings create status distinctions among occupants:
The structure of a classroom in which the teacher's desk faces the students speaks clearly about how the system expects the student to see . . . self--one of the herd, non-special, and having no identity when compared with the teacher, who has a unique, and often raised, place at the front of the room. (p. 51)
Fisher and Byrne (1975) even believe there are gender differences in the way space is defended. Levanthal, Lipshultz, and Chiodo (1978) also found that "in social settings, opposite sex pairs selected a side by side seating arrangement while sex pairs, especially males, preferred to sit across from one another. In non-social settings, individuals selected the side by side seating arrangements regardless of sex" (p. 21).
We believe it is important to understand how distance can be influenced by cultural and social expectations. Vosko (1984) provides some guidelines on how important the actual distance between people is in facilitating or inhibiting interaction between the instructor and learners or between learners, themselves. He describes eight distance zones and their impact on interaction, ranging from "intimate close" to "public far" (pp. 4-6). Hall (1966) described four distance zones established by "non-contact, middle-class, healthy adults, mainly natives of northeastern United States" (p. 116). The intimate, personal, social and public zones are set up as a scientific classification system. Hall concluded that humans distinguish between one space or distance and another.
Some adults also will select their location in the physical environment according to how they initially want to interact: "The specific distance chosen depends on the transaction: the relationships of the interacting individuals, how they feel and what they are doing" (Hall, 1966, p. 128). Thus, adults who wish for frequent participation will locate themselves in corresponding optimal locations. Sommer (1969) believes this suggests "the relationship between location and participation must take individual choice (environmental preference) into account" (p. 115). Willis (1966) provides an example of the distance zones people establish according to various personal characteristics: "Speakers tend to stand more closely
to women than to men. Compared with men, women stand more closely to good friends but further from those they describe as friends. Perhaps women tend to be more cautious until close relationships are established. Peers stand closer than do persons older than the listener. Strangers begin conversations at distances greater than that of acquaintances" (p. 222).
We believe an instructor's sensitivity to the preferred location of various learners in educational settings is translated into a concern for those spatial arrangements that encourage social contact and interaction. However, these same spaces can enable individuals to disengage themselves from the group if they wish. Altman (1975) offers some related suggestions for instructors:
We should attempt to design responsive environments which permit easy alteration between a state of separateness and a state of togetherness. If privacy has a shifting dialectic quality, we should offer people environments that can be responsive to their shifting desires for contact or absence of contact with others. (p. 107)
Birdwhistell (1970) believes it is important that the physical setting facilitate a certain amount of mobility or body movement. Such mobility also has important safety implications: "A facility which permits easy movement and a diffuse structure may promote the development of a positive self-concept" and a "freedom of mobility to avoid threatening situations" (Knirk, 1979, p. 23). Proshansky, Ittelson, and Rivlin (1976) also discuss the importance of freedom of choice in physical settings: "(a) a human being, in almost all instances and situations, is a knowledgeable and goal-directed organism; (b) a human being's attempts at need satisfaction always involve . . . [personal] interactions and exchanges with the physical environment; (c) in any situational context, the individual attempts to organize . . . [personal] physical environment so that it maximizes . . . freedom of choice" (pp. 171-172).
Most instructors will have more freedom or space than learners in which to move around just because of the authority hierarchy inherent in the position. Such circumstances can be indicative of certain assumptions about the spatial definition of status. "Higher ups have more and better space, as well as greater freedom to move about. This becomes institutionalized in the design and layout of buildings" (Sommer, 1969, p. 25). Thus, a distinction between what can be called soft and hard spaces needs to be made.
For instance, hard architectural spaces are impermeable in nature and do not encourage individual mobility or social contact. The sociofugal auditorium or training setting with chairs in rows, sometimes even anchored at the base to some structural support to maintain positions, is an example. Sommer (1974) believes such spaces are not very desirable for most adult learning activities. Our experiences as instructors have supported this contention unless our sole purpose is to direct the attention of learners on us or on some special speaker for a limited period of time. Knowles (1980) suggests that this arrangement would be counterproductive in settings where the learner's reservoir of experience and knowledge is crucial.
Soft settings are those with considerable flexibility and where furnishings can be moved around.
Most sociopetal arrangements are soft in nature. One study of soft settings found that flexible furnishings and permeable surroundings enabled people to move from one location to another as desired or if the learning requirements, such as a small group discussion, warranted it (Sommer & Olsen, 1980). This setting type also enables a more relaxed social context for learning experiences and usually is much different in terms of the learning climate from those arranged without such flexibility.
The ability to move seats, for example, or for learners to be able to move freely within seats also has important social interaction implications. Knirk (1979) encourages planners to "consider wheel and swivels, as they permit some shifting about--especially for high school students and adults" (p. 130). Steele (1973) believes that fixed furniture inhibits such social interaction and suggests that rooms with seats "bolted to the floor" are good for maintenance but are "not very good for learning activities other than lectures" (p. 64). We are not suggesting that learners are brought together just so social contacts are enhanced, but personal growth can be stimulated in important ways other than intellectual if the movement of people in space is considered (Steele & Jenks, 1977).
The physical setting affects human senses in a variety of ways. Colors can impact a person's mood; a room that is too warm will deleteriously affect attention span or an ability to focus. In addition, several senses may be involved at the same time in our learning efforts, even though we may not realize this polysensory interrelationship. The field of synaesthetics is helpful in understanding how the physical environment is perceived in a polysensory manner and how such perceptions affect learning (Andrews & Giordano, 1980; Marks, 1975; Merleau-Ponty, 1962). Synaesthetics in concerned with determining how learners can be helped to integrate several sensory experiences simultaneously.
Noise, for example, is an environmental factor that can adversely affect our auditory well-being. As Wells (1981) notes "we live submerged in a world far noisier than our ears or nerves were designed to handle, and, for some of us, there is literally no escape." Most instructors have faced the situation of a training site or classroom being under the frequent glidepath of a busy airport, next to
a construction project, near a noisy lounge, or close to some other creator of unwelcome sounds. At times, even the active discussion emanating from small groups will be disruptive to other small groups trying to work.
Knirk (1979) suggests that there are at least four components of noise in the learning situation about which we should be concerned: (a) noise reduction (sound insulation qualities); (b) reverberation (liveliness or prolonged reflection of sound); (c) speech interference level (background or conflicting); and (d) an articulation index (ability to recognize speech components). The Guide for Planning Educational Facilities (1976) offers an approach for meeting such concerns:
Designing a good acoustical environment in an educational facility requires the solution of two problems: (a) controlling sound within a particular space so that sound which is to be heard can be heard well, and (b) preventing the intrusion of unwanted sounds from outside the space. (p. I-6)
We use several techniques for either controlling internal sounds or preventing intrusive noise. One is to make sure that any learners with hearing difficulties are able to situate themselves so that they can minimize any problems. As mentioned before, another is to ensure the availability of adequate breakout rooms or areas so that conversations from one group do not bother another. Closing windows, closing doors, moving in sound barriers, and using audio amplification are other means of coping with noise problems.
From an optical standpoint, lighting levels can either be a source of pleasure or distraction. If a classroom or nearby exterior space is inadequately lighted, a person's feeling of well being, ability to read learning materials, or need to take appropriate notes can be affected. When showing some sort of audio-visual aid, it usually is necessary to adjust the level of light so that any screen, monitor, or primary area of focus can be adequately observed from all parts of the room. Walking in an unlighted or poorly lighted hallway or parking lot can even create feelings of insecurity or concern for personal safety and may require instructors to ask learners to walk together in certain areas. The main point here is for instructors to ensure that the "quantity of illumination is sufficient for the task" (Murrell, 1965, p. 339) or to make any necessary adjustments if possible.
There also has been research aimed at understanding the differences between artificial and natural light sources. Some people believe natural lighting (daylight) is better because it enhances color, texture, and even the atmosphere of a room (Bennett, 1977; Caudill, Pena, & Kennon, 1978; Lam, 1977; Sommer, 1974). Others believe artificial lighting can be better controlled, reduces distractions, and usually is necessary for maximum usage of a space (Knirk, 1979; Rasmussen, 1959; Sommer, 1974).
Glare and the presence of features which can cause shadows have been examined. Two types of effect of overly bright and/or contrasting light sources are disability glare and discomfort glare. If a light source has sufficient illumination and is sufficiently close to the direction
in which one is looking it may reduce one's ability to see (disability). It may also produce a discomfort effect. (Bennett, 1977, p. 98). Huchingson (1981) cautions that direct lighting sources can cause more problems with distractions such as glare, contrast problems, and debilitating shadows than indirect lighting sources which can be controlled.
We suggest that an instructor arrive at the training site or classroom early to check out lighting both within and outside of the setting. This includes becoming acquainted with means for adding or reducing lighting as needed, checking electrical outlets for audio-visual equipment if necessary, practicing with audio-visual devices before using them, and even asking participants if any of them have special lighting needs. Obvious differences between night and day will need to be considered.
The thermal conditions of any physical environment also are important. A room that is too warm or too cold will create various kinds of barriers for learners. Knirk (1979) believes that although humans are in general highly adaptive creatures, they cannot attend, perceive, or process information easily when the physical environment is simply uncomfortable. Huchingson (1981) suggests that there are four major environmental factors affecting such personal comfort: (a) temperature, (b) humidity, (c) air velocity, and (d) radiation from the sun or other sources. Most instructors can provide some control over these elements in various ways.
Personal comfort concerns are other elements that can affect various senses in various ways. The appropriateness of the chair pertaining to cushioning and support for the back can be crucial, especially if the learning session extends beyond 40 or 50 minutes. The proximity or at least location of lavatories and coatrooms is something about which the instructor can be aware. The availability of refreshments in the room or proximity to refreshments outside the learning space is important to most learners, especially if they are to be involved in a learning activity for some time. Allowing adequate time for breaks where learners can smoke, use the lavatory, or consume some refreshments usually is necessary. Some researchers even believe the presence or absence of decorations is important to polysensory learning (Croney, 1981; Henley, 1977).
Colors, too, have power in affecting the human senses, conveying meaning, and presenting an atmosphere of pleasantness (Albers, 1968; Birren, 1978; Itten, 1970; and Rasmussen, 1959). Knirk (1979) and Murrell (1965) suggest that blues, greens, and greys (the cooler colors) create more passive participation or a sense of coldness. Warm colors or light pastels, on the other hand, such as reds and yellows "tend to give a sense of warmth and an advancing effect" (Murrell, 1965, p. 337).
Instructors may initially seem powerless to affect such things as the lavatory's location, type of room decorations available, or
color scheme chosen for a room, but if such features in some way become barriers to learning then it may be mandatory to attempt some changes. There also is much more that needs to be known about various senses, such as tactile, smell, and taste, in relation to the impact the physical environment can have on them and correspondingly on adult learning. We hope that the initial understanding of the environment that we have presented in this chapter will stimulate considerable related research and attention so that our knowledge and skill in managing the physical setting can be increased. In addition, we conclude the chapter with some ideas on how to analyze the physical environment in order to make some changes that will be beneficial to your instructional efforts.
Analyzing the Physical Environment
There are a number of questions that can be raised in thinking about the physical setting. What is an optimal physical environment conducive to effective adult learning? What kinds of characteristics should such a setting possess? What kinds of decisions and control should be the responsibility of an instructor? What steps can administrators and even learners take to ensure that the environment for learning is as effective as possible?
The preceding material in this chapter obviously has suggested some answers to these and other related questions. We also believe learners should be consulted regarding any of their special or personal needs related to the environment. Is it possible to satisfy everyone's needs? Probably not! What is possible is the effort to honor adults as sources of information, to learn about some needs, and then try to satisfy them.
Another important practice is formative evaluation throughout a learning experience. For example, a continual assessment of the environment might reveal that some seats are simply too small or uncomfortable for the type of learning activities being facilitated. Subsequent efforts could be made to find alternative seats. If certain people are having problems hearing the instructor or other learners, then they could be moved to more appropriate locations in the room.
Such suggestions are not the last answers to physical environment concerns nor do they necessarily provide optimal advice pertaining to physical components within the learning environment. Each instructor's personality, preferred instructional techniques, and institutional constraints obviously need to be matched with peculiarities present in each group of learners to ensure success in the individualized setting.
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