Defining learning environments

Before discussing exactly how the learning environment can contribute to the capacity of teachers and development of learners, let us first define the learning environment. The learning environment is both physical and social; it includes physical spaces and the people occupying them. Since the decision of which people and how many people occupy a particular school setting is generally a matter of administration and outside the scope of the designer, we will focus on the physical learning environment (PLE). The PLE includes both internal and external spaces, shared community facilities, landscapes, as well as associated technologies.

All spaces have educational potential, not only classrooms and laboratories, but also circulation spaces, outdoor spaces, library, multipurpose rooms, kitchen, and dining halls. Therefore, it is important to design the entire school site as part of the PLE and to utilize every space as an opportunity for learning and development. Corridor spaces, for example, whether internal or external, can serve as extensions of the classroom and give teachers another venue for engaging students in curriculum. Every space in the school sends environmental messages that cue certain behaviors, thoughts, and mindsets. Even something as seemingly imperceptible as the ratio of communal space to instructional space will give students insight on how much importance their school places on community.