The importance of establishing an environment which is conducive to learning is an aspect that can be overlooked by teachers.Two types of environments can be created and described as formal and informal.
A formal learning environment is one in which the area has been specifically designed to represent a typical classroom situation with desks, chairs, markerboards and other support equipment such as overhead and slide projectors, videos and so on.Formal learning environments are usually required to train groups of people, both small and large. There are significant advantages in having space with all the facilities and resources at hand, especially if the instructional methods chosen by the trainer require the use of audio-visual equipment, or space for role-plays, simulations or small group tutorials.
An informal learning environment is more difficult to define, but can be any workspace that can be adapted for one-to-one or small group learning activities.Some of these spaces could be meeting rooms, offices, cafeterias or outdoors. Informal learning environments are more conducive to success for adult learners than formal ones because many people relate formal classroom-type learning situations with past school experiences, and some of these may have been quite negative.
For example, you may be responsible for the training of learners who have recently left a formal learning environment. They will probably benefit from being in a work environment, where the informality of the learning is based on one-to-one interaction between the trainee and the trainer, and where the trainee can observe the day-to-day activities and feel part of the team.If placed in a formal learning environment, the trainees motivation to learn may be decreased because the environment is too similar to what the trainee has just left.
The case for and against formal or informal learning environments is not clear cut. The choice of a formal or informal environment will be dictated by:
- the trainee(s)
- the kind of learning which needs to take place e.g. acquiring knowledge or manipulative skills
- problems with a work environment e.g. noise, interruptions by telephones or people
- the training methods and instructional materials to be used
- the subject matter or content of the training session