So what do we mean by a learning environment?
The term “Learning environment” is increasingly prevalent in articles on the subject of adult education and training. It represents the convergence of three factors which we aim to shed some light on in this post:
- Evolution in learning theories: “from knowledge transfer to supported self-study”
For ideological reasons, relating mainly to quantitative issues, education from the 19th century onwards, and training (which followed on from it) in the 20th century, have stressed the role of the teacher and, therefore, the trainer. Little, if any, attention was paid to the responsibilities of pupils, trainees or learners. In spite of a number of high-profile counter-examples, such as the Monitorial System, the didactic method reigned supreme. Thanks to Piaget and Vygotsky, among others, the idea that every individual learned in a different way gained currency. Now, “differentiated”, or even “personalised” learning is becoming de rigueur, certainly in educational discourse, and sometimes in practice! We find some of the basic elements of active learning advocated by Freinet and Montessori, among others. In all cases, the activities of the person who is being taught, receiving training or doing the learning are of paramount importance in reaching defined objectives or acquiring targeted skills. Educational theories focus on conditions which are conducive to the learning process. Prominent among them is the learning environment which will allow us all to self-regulate, to some extent, as a means of optimising our learning styles.
- The emergence of the concept of Apprenance
Alongside the evolution of theories about learning, work is now underway to identify fertile ground for encouraging life-long learning. Notably, the studies carried out by Phillipe Carré’s university research team propose a framework for reflection and action on the concept of Apprenance (see https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apprenance). Moving from an overarching dynamic of “Situations” (that is, training activities organised mainly around a work placement) towards more individualised complementary “Space-time” dynamics, the concept of Apprenance is creating new learning ecosystems. Whereas the trainee used to have to adapt to the training provided (catalogue effect), in the case of Apprenance, it is up to the stakeholders in the region to work together to provide a better response to the needs of all learners, who are, for the most part, increasingly well connected (APP, MOOC, Barcamp, Fablab and Learning Circle effects, among others). The issues of knowing how to, being able to, and wanting to learn correspond to the situation of each individual, who may or may not be in a position to grasp new training opportunities in his or her environment.
- The vital role of digital technology
The quality of a person’s learning environment is closely related to his or her capacity to interact effectively: to find information, seek help, cooperate with others, etc. ...with or without digital artefacts. The concept of the PLE “Personal Learning Environment”, meaning «Environnement Personnel d’Apprentissage Numérique» or «EPA» (see https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environnement_d%27apprentissage_personnel) has recently been introduced in the English-speaking world. Just as we say “Social Networks” rather than “Digital Social Networks”, digital technology is so prevalent in our personal, social and professional lives that we tend not to make reference to it anymore. The potential to find, share and publish information opens up new opportunities for recreation, shopping, travelling and boosting our cultural knowledge, as well as for working and learning. Depending, on the one hand, on the quality of the connection in our homes and places of work, and our culture and our use of digital technology, on the other, chances of maintaining employability, mobility, culture and citizenship will vary. Some adults are, or will be, in conditions conducive to interaction; others are likely to suffer a double digital rupture: either in terms of connection possibilities or in terms of the relevance and variety of uses. The lower the educational level, the greater the risk.
The concept of a “Learning environment” can be defined in terms of three levels which move progressively closer to the learner. Firstly, there is the degree of relevance of the learning ecosystem in which the learner is operating. Then comes the type of teaching used, which may, or may not, be conducive to a diversity of self-regulated activities. Finally, there is the use of digital resources and tools (by both learners and trainers) to optimise human interaction and pave the way for lasting collaborative learning, which often takes place in learning communities.
Jean Vanderspelden, a consultant with ITG Paris, supports open and distance learning projects designed to develop the skills of adults. He is studying the relationship between “Adult education and integration of digital technology" in the practices of knowledge stakeholders who train and support learners at all levels, including the most poorly-skilled adults.