You Attend a Lecture by a Psychologist Who Uses Terms

You Attend a Lecture by a Psychologist Who Uses Terms.

Chapter 6. The Psychology of Learning Environments

Ken A. Graetz

Winona State University

He emerged into the strangest-looking classroom he had ever seen. In fact, it didn’t look similar a classroom at all, more like a cross between someone’southward attic and an old-fashioned tea shop. At least twenty small, circular tables were crammed inside it, all surrounded by chintz armchairs and fatty fiddling poufs. Everything was lit with a dim, crimson light; the defunction at the windows were all airtight, and the many lamps were draped with cherry-red scarves. It was stiflingly warm, and the fire that was called-for under the crowded mantelpiece was giving off a heavy, sickly sort of perfume equally it heated a large copper kettle. The shelves running around the circular walls were crammed with dusty-looking feathers, stubs of candles, many packs of tattered playing cards, countless silvery crystal balls, and a huge array of teacups.1

The Environmental Psychology of Teaching and Learning

This enchanting description of a classroom at the fictitious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry captures 3 fundamental ideas from the ecology psychology of teaching and learning. Outset, all learning takes place in a physical surround with quantifiable and perceptible physical characteristics. Whether sitting in a large lecture hall, underneath a tree, or in front end of a estimator screen, students are engulfed by ecology information. Specific targets within the environment depict the students’ attention, such as armchairs, scarves, and teacups, and they continuously monitor the ambient properties such equally the light of the lamps, the smell of the kettle, and the warmth of the burn down. In whatsoever learning environs students are brimful in environmental information, merely a minor fraction of which constitutes the sights and sounds of didactics.

2nd, students do not touch on, see, or hear passively; they feel, look, and listen actively. Students cannot nourish to all the environmental information bombarding them at whatever given time; their power to gather and understand incoming information is limited. Through automatic and controlled processes, students select information for consideration. They try to understand what they are sensing by piecing bits of data together from the bottom up and by applying existing thoughts and preconceptions from the elevation down. A classroom with circular tables and comfy armchairs may expect strange because it deviates from expectations formed through prior experience. Students may direct their attention to particular targets in the learning environs that they find more than interesting, important, or unfamiliar than others. For some, it might be the instructor’due south engaging chemistry demonstration. For others, it may be the silvery crystal brawl on the shelf. In whatever learning environment, students manage their express cognitive resources by actively selecting ecology information for farther consideration and by using existing knowledge structures to interpret this information in ways that take worked previously.

Third, the physical characteristics of learning environments tin can affect learners emotionally, with important cerebral and behavioral consequences. Although emotional reactions to ecology stimuli have been shown to vary widely across individuals and activities, most students would probably find learning difficult in a classroom that is stiflingly warm. Conversely, environments that elicit positive emotional responses may lead non merely to enhanced learning but also to a powerful, emotional attachment to that infinite. Information technology may get a place where students love to learn, a place they seek out when they wish to learn, and a place they recollect fondly when they reflect on their learning experiences. In college education, we hope to provide such places for our students to larn, fifty-fifty as we build yet another large lecture hall and endeavour to clasp our students into crowded, noisy, and uncomfortable spaces. Clearly, some learning environments are more comfy and offer fewer distractions than others. In whatever learning environment, physical characteristics that cause discomfort can be expected to interfere with learning; environments that produce positive emotional states can be expected to facilitate learning and the development of place attachment.

The areas of psychology that chronicle near directly to classroom design and learning environments are environmental, educational, man factors (technology), and social psychology. Previous research on the furnishings of such ecology variables as light, temperature, and noise on learning has yielded some predictable results that are addressed through traditional classroom blueprint. Learning appears to exist affected adversely by inadequate light, farthermost temperatures, and loud noises—variables maintained inside acceptable ranges in most college classrooms. Other results, all the same, reflect the often complex, subtle, and surprising interplay between the learner and the learning environment. Years of inquiry on the impact of ecology variables on human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors indicate that other variables frequently moderate the effects of environmental variables. In a summary of the research on educational environments, Weinstein2
ended that environmental variables can affect learners indirectly and that the effects of different physical settings oft depend on the nature of the task and the learner. For example, distracting noises appear to irksome reaction time and degrade performance to a greater degree in older versus younger adultsiii
and for introverts to a greater degree than extraverts.four

Research on the touch on of data technology on learning environments is non as voluminous. The presence and application of engineering science changes the learning surroundings, both directly and indirectly. This chapter focuses on the psychological underpinnings of three such changes with major implications for the design of higher learning environments:

  • the increased presence of personal, networked devices (for instance, wireless laptops and cellular phones) in the classroom,
  • the migration of course content to the Web and the subsequent transition in classroom activity from information delivery to collaboration, and
  • the increasing importance of virtual learning environments.

Devices and Distraction in College Classrooms

Laptops and other mobile devices have great potential to enhance and transform instruction and are beingness used effectively in many college classrooms.v
Today’s students utilize their devices in class to take notes, access materials and applications, and find relevant information. When all students in a classroom tin access networked tools simultaneously, many collaborative learning and just-in-time teaching opportunities sally. In that location is a dark side to the presence of personal, networked devices in class, withal—when students use them to engage in activities unrelated to coursework.

Students have always institute means, other than listening to the instructor, to pass the time during grade. Crossword puzzles, doodling, and daydreams take occupied students’ minds during more classes than we care to acknowledge. At get-go glance, it appears that the wireless laptop, PDA, iPod, and cellular phone are simply the crossword puzzles of today’s college classrooms. As suggested by the comments below, however, the issue is more circuitous. Yesterday’s students did non have 24 x 7 online access to all of the content presented during a typical lecture-based form, did not find the crossword puzzle being tackled past the student sitting side by side to them specially distracting, and were non themselves as tempted by a crossword puzzle as by instant messaging or an immersive online game. In improver, a handful of students in a large lecture hall working on crossword puzzles did non change the physical environment for instructors.

When a teacher is upwards at that place reading his slides and I can get home and look at them later, Solitaire can be a temptation—let lonely my email messages that I’m checking. Information technology’s kind of a blunt truth, merely sitting in the back of the classroom, information technology’due south not but me. You look around and all yous encounter is Solitaire, east-post.6

The computers interfere with making eye contact. You’ve got this sentinel fence between yous and the students.7

In addition to the sensory richness of Web sites and online games, today’s mobile devices convey social data, i of the most powerful targets of attending. Nosotros seem particularly attuned to this information, whether studying people’due south faces and body movements or listening to people talk. In addition, the software applications used to mediate communication are designed to catch the user’s attention. Microsoft MSN Messenger, a popular instant messaging client, provides a visible and audible indicate when a fellow member of your buddy listing starts the application and when a bulletin is received. It has a “nudge” feature that presents a distinctive sound and animation when you lot want to attract the attention of a buddy, shaking the messaging window dorsum and forth on the buddy’s screen. It has a “wink” feature that allows yous to send animations to a buddy, such equally the big set of knuckles illustrated in Effigy 1 that announced to rap on the inside of your buddy’southward screen. Even if students make every effort to pay attention to the teacher, instant messaging applications are designed to capture their attending, and the social information conveyed is probably too alluring for nigh students to ignore.

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Effigy 1. MSN Messenger “Flash”

To ameliorate understand the potential of today’s mobile devices to distract students, information technology may be helpful to review some of the basic principles of attention.8
Attention is possibly best represented not as a unmarried process but as an organized fix of procedures through which we select specific environmental stimuli or inputs for cerebral processing.ix
It is commonly held that just i input is processed consciously. This could exist called the
attended input. All other ecology stimuli (for example, background noise, the temperature of the room) are processed unconsciously. These are the
unattended inputs. Unconscious monitoring detects changes in inputs to which we are not attending consciously, merely that might be important. What constitutes an of import change is probably determined past some other process, referred to here as the
attention controller, which may button the data into conscious awareness.10
This might result in the selection of a new attended input, a shift in attending perceived as either controlled and selective or unexpected and distracting.

Nosotros have all experienced the sudden witting awareness of an unattended input. The so-called cocktail party effect11
occurs when you hear your name mentioned somewhere in a crowded room every bit you appoint in a discussion with someone else. Even every bit you attend to the word, presumably yous monitor other sounds in the room unconsciously. Your attention controller detects an of import stimulus—your name—which causes you to shift your conscious attention away from your word.

Using these basic concepts, the distracting nature of mobile devices in the classroom can exist recast. Given two potential inputs, the instructor or a laptop screen displaying a game of Solitaire, some students select the instructor as the attended input and the laptop as the unattended input. Those who are trying to listen to their instructor and notice their attention captured by their own or another student’southward laptop screen are distracted by that device. This can exist problematic in a classroom environment, as it interferes with students’ ability to process grade-related information and prevents them from obtaining an outcome (specifically, learning) they desire and expect to receive, a common cause of frustration, acrimony, and aggression.12
This emotional response is probably more pronounced when students are distracted by others’ devices over which they take no control.

As much every bit we hope that all students select their instructors as the primary target of their attention during class, we know that some cull the game of Solitaire, relegating the teacher to the status of unattended input. This is often described erroneously every bit distraction. In fact, these students are non distracted by their devices; they have selected them for attention. If anything, these students may notice themselves distracted by the teacher. This is probably what passes equally multitasking for many students. They nourish to electronic mail, instant messages, and other unrelated, device-based information during grade, while monitoring the instructional stream unconsciously. Their attention controllers are prepare to respond to important signals, such equally the phrase, “This will be on the test.” In the classroom version of the cocktail party upshot, students’ attention then snaps to the instructor.

Although the challenge in this case is 1 of student motivation, not distraction, the two are closely related. Every bit more students decide to instant message or play online games during class, the volume and variety of potentially distracting environmental data increases, making it more difficult for motivated learners to nourish to the instructor. What impact does this accept on classroom design? First and foremost, instructors must be able to engage students in the learning process during class fourth dimension, and classrooms must be designed to facilitate that engagement. It is hard for students to attend to other activities when they are talking to an teacher, working on a group activity, or using their devices for academic purposes. Instead of banning instant messaging in grade, instructors might be supported in their employ of this and other social technologies to facilitate course-related discussion and collaborative work.

Attempting to prohibit the utilise of devices in class through edict or infrastructure (for example, installing an Net kill switch) is costly and does little to address the underlying problem. It is preferable to design classrooms and classroom computing policies that allow instructors to exercise greater social command. In the case of laptops in the classroom, screens should be hands visible to instructors equally they walk around the room, and instructors should be able to display any student’due south laptop screen to a public screen at a moment’due south observe. In large classes, software that allows instructors to view thumbnail images of each student’south screen (for example, DyKnow Monitor or SMART SynchronEyes) may also be useful. Although most instructors are probably not interested in spending time on what feels like student surveillance, the mere presence of these methods combined with clear classroom policies offers a expert classroom direction solution that lets students go on using their devices for academic purposes.

Through their behavior, some students are telling united states that they feel neither the demand nor the desire to pay close attending to the instructor during some classes. Generally speaking, this is cypher new. However, those responsible for designing learning spaces should be aware that today’s incarnation of this trouble requires additional study. Today’s devices are colliding with yesterday’s methods. What takes place in a college classroom is changing, due in large part to the very it that gives some instructors and administrators cause for business organisation. The classroom is no longer a identify where data is delivered to passive students. A growing number of students get that information elsewhere and do not look to hear it repeated verbatim in class. Instead, the classroom is becoming an interactive, collaborative environment where cognition is created actively past students, many of whom have devices that are as much a part of them as their own skin and that can exist a very important office of this process.

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Collaboration in the Classroom

Although planning for data project and network access is an important part of today’southward classroom blueprint process, information technology is likely to have an even greater indirect consequence on how fixed-site classrooms are used in the future. The migration to the Web of the content traditionally delivered by instructors in lecture format is helping shift the function served past brick-and-mortar classrooms from information delivery to collaboration and discussion. Collaborative learning refers to a wide variety of “educational activities in which human relationships are the key to welfare, accomplishment, and mastery,” wherein faculty “assistance students acquire by working together on substantive issues.”xiii
Surveys indicate that lecture is yet the most common instructional method used by college educators in the United states of america.14
Nonetheless, the transition from lecture to collaboration is well under way.

What impact does this take on classroom design? This fundamental change will challenge designers to create environments that facilitate collaborative activities. Instead of theaters where students spotter instructors perform, classrooms must be flexible meeting places. Bruffee15
described the ideal classroom for collaborative learning:

A level floor, movable seats, chalkboards on three or four walls, controlled acoustics (acoustical-tiled ceilings and carpeted floors), and no central seminar table (or ane that can exist pushed well out of the way without threatening an attack of lumbago). An alternative is half dozen to x movable iv- or v-sided tables of roughly card-tabular array size.

This description implies a maximum class size of fifty students. The question of classroom density is an important one: Researchers have explored the psychological and educational furnishings of classroom density, both spatial (the size of the room) and social (the number of students). In their meta-analysis of 77 dissimilar studies on this issue, Drinking glass and Smithsixteen
concluded that higher social density results in lower student achievement. When designing collaborative classrooms, a proficient social density benchmark is three to 5 groups of 6 to 12 students each. Spatial density should exist such that both students and instructors have enough room to move easily from grouping to group (specifically, 4 to 7 feet between groups). Designers should also pay careful attention to the caste to which students feel crowded in a classroom. The experience of crowding in educational settings appears related to personal space violation.17
Inquiry suggests that groups of students tin be expected to piece of work together nigh effectively at personal distances of two to four feet without feeling crowded.

Although class size is a limiting factor when implementing sure collaborative learning activities comfortably, small group collaboration and word are easier to manage in big classes than many instructors realize. Informal small group techniques like think-pair-share,18
wherein students think briefly most a question posed by the instructor, discuss their thoughts with a student sitting adjacent to them, and then share their articulation thoughts with the class, are feasible in big classesxix
and can exist facilitated past technology. More formal activities such every bit jigsaw groups and structured controversy can as well engage students in large classes.20

Classroom response systems or “clickers” are used by a growing number of instructors to gather educatee feedback and stimulate in-form word. In classes that let group network access, a wide variety of groupware tools tin can back up collaboration in groups of all sizes. DyKnow Vision allows students to view and comment instructor whiteboard activity in real time. Instructors can so invite students to the virtual whiteboard, displaying their work to the entire form. GroupSystems is a suite of tools for supporting idea generation, organization, and evaluation in face-to-face and distributed groups.

Virtual Learning Environments

Today’s students spend an increasing amount of their time peering at figurer screens. These virtual environments take concrete characteristics that are just as existent every bit those of a dormitory room or a brick-and-mortar classroom, and students can become just equally attached to them. On one end of the continuum are virtual worlds that emulate a natural, multidimensional surround. Many students subscribe to massive multiplayer online games such as
Globe of Warcraft, wherein they develop personas or “avatars,” travel from town to town, acquire property, meet other people, and solve bug. On the other end of the spectrum are the online work spaces that students use every day, such as course management systems and campus portals. Somewhere in between are applications such every bit Facebook and MySpace, or persistent, customizable, social spaces that lack the immersive qualities of virtual worlds but are more open up, recreational, and social than campus work spaces.

Although many administrators and instructors are familiar with class management systems and campus portals, fewer accept experience with virtual worlds and may question their academic relevance. A good example of a virtual earth used as a classroom is
Second Life, an online environment designed to support inventiveness, collaboration, commerce, and entertainment. Although members can play games in this world, the environment itself is non a game in the traditional sense. Instead, it is an open surroundings (what some telephone call synthetic reality) where members tin interact with each other and build things (for example, buildings, games, wear, article of furniture) for utilize within the virtual earth. A growing community of educators uses
2nd Life
for instructional purposes. In fall 2005, the Schoolhouse of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin used
Second Life
in the course Designing Digital Communities, and Southern New Hampshire University used it in Introduction to International Business. Effigy 2 shows a snapshot of my
Second Life
avatar, Hoptoad Flan, enjoying a relaxing moment.

Figure two.
Second Life
Avatar Hoptoad Flan

Figure 2. Second Life Avatar Hoptoad Flan

What bear upon does this accept on classroom blueprint? Commencement, campuses tin look the boundaries betwixt virtual and brick-and-mortar learning environments to go on to blur. Students and instructors will need access to their virtual learning environments while seated in their brick-and-mortar classrooms. 2d, equally campuses accept the notion that virtual spaces are actually classrooms, they can begin to apply the same care and consideration to decisions nearly course management systems and campus portals as they do to decisions nigh new structure and renovation. Of utmost importance is the usability of these virtual spaces.

A popular model of usability21
identifies 5 criteria for defining a usable arrangement:

  • Learnability
    refers to the speed and ease with which a novice user tin can accomplish proficiency with the system.
  • Efficiency
    refers to the degree to which the system supports the performance of an experienced user in the shortest corporeality of time and with the fewest steps.
  • Memorability
    refers to the caste to which a user, specially an intermittent or casual user, can remember how to attain a task using the system, the steps of which were learned previously.
  • Errors
    refer to the number of mistakes and missteps fabricated by users.
  • Satisfaction
    refers to the users’ overall emotional experience when using the system.
  • Careful, objective usability analyses of common digital environments should be conducted and problems should be addressed using like decision-making processes and with the same sense of urgency that campuses apply when addressing poor weather in brick-and-mortar classrooms.
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College Classrooms of Mystery and Enchantment

Equally students enter a virtual or brick-and-mortar learning environment, they form a cerebral impression of that space and feel an associated emotional response, simply as Harry Potter did when he entered his Divination classroom. People’s preference for specific environments appears to depend on their cognitive impression. Kaplan and Kaplan22
suggested four cognitive determinants of environmental preference:

  • Coherence, or the ease with which a setting can be organized cognitively
  • Complexity, or the perceived capacity of the setting to occupy interest and stimulate action
  • Legibility, or perceived ease of employ
  • Mystery, or the perception that entering the setting would pb to increased learning, interaction, or interest

An interesting addition to this list might be the concept of
enchantment. Bennett23
described enchantment as the experience of being “both defenseless upward and carried away.” When enchanted by what we are experiencing, we are held spellbound, our senses seem heightened,24
and we are caught in a moment of pure presence that we effort to maintain.25

Students probably discover today’s brick-and-mortar higher classrooms quite coherent and legible. They make perfect sense to those who expect to sit, facing forward, and listen quietly. Virtual learning environments may lack some of this coherence and legibility but are probably perceived as more circuitous and mysterious. What of enchantment? Our students are enchanted past works of fine art, musical performances, and scenic landscapes, simply do they find our learning environments enchanting? We can all call up our favorite classroom and our favorite place to report as students. Nosotros all relate to Harry Potter walking into a classroom on the beginning solar day of school and experiencing a sense of awe and wonder at the feathers, stubs of candles, packs of tattered playing cards, and silver crystal balls on the shelves. It is possible to build learning environments from both brick-and-mortar and bits-and-bytes that draw students in and elicit a sense of mystery and enchantment. As we respond to the increased presence of networked devices, the transition from lecture to collaboration, and the growing importance of virtual environments and build the classrooms of the future that facilitate usability, engagement, collaboration, and learning, we would practise well to remember what it was about learning environments that enchanted united states of america and commit ourselves to preserving, restoring, and creating those experiences for our own students.


  1. J. G. Rowling,
    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
    (New York: Scholastic Press, 1999), p. 101.
  2. Carol S. Weinstein, “The Physical Environment of School: A Review of the Enquiry,”
    Review of Educational Enquiry, vol. 49, no. 4 (Autumn 1979), pp. 577–610.
  3. Richard J. Jennings, Robert Nebs, and Kay Brock, “Retention Retrieval in Dissonance and Psychophysiological Response in the Immature and Erstwhile,”
    Psychophysiology, vol. 25, no. 6 (1988), pp. 633–644.
  4. Russell G. Geen, Eugene J. McCown, and James W. Broyles, “Effects of Noise on Sensitivity of Introverts and Extraverts to Signals in a Vigilance Job,”
    Personality and Individual Differences, vol. half-dozen, no. 2 (1985), pp. 237–241.
  5. Linda B. Nilson and Barbara East. Weaver, eds.,
    Directions for Teaching and Learning: Enhancing Learning with Laptops in the Classroom
    (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).
  6. “ 4 Views from the Frontline,”
    Chronicle of Higher Education, December nine, 2005; available past subscription at <[]>.
  7. “Constabulary Professor Bans Laptops in Form, Over Student Protest,”, March 21, 2006, <>.
  8. The cognitive science of attention and consciousness is a large area of study. There is considerable contend within the field over the processes involved. The model and ideas presented hither are generalizations and represent just one approach. Those interested in learning more should consult Harold Due east. Pashler,
    The Psychology of Attention
    (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1998); Raja Parasuraman, ed.,
    The Attentive Brain
    (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1998; and Elizabeth A. Styles,
    The Psychology of Attention
    (East Sussex, U.One thousand.: Psychology Press Ltd., 1997).
  9. Arnold Fifty. Glass, Keith J. Holyoak, and John. L. Santa,
    (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1979).
  10. Ibid.
  11. East. Collin Ruby-red, “Some Experiments on the Recognition of Speech, with One and Two Ears,”
    Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, vol. 25, no. 5 (September 1953), pp. 975–979, <>.
  12. Leonard Berkowitz, “Frustration-Assailment Hypothesis: Examination and Reformulation,”
    Psychological Bulletin, vol. 106, no. 1 (1989), pp. 59–73.
  13. Kenneth A. Bruffee,
    Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge, 2nd Ed.
    (Baltimore, Physician.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).
  14. Donald A. Bligh,What’southward the Use of Lectures?
    (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000).
  15. Bruffee, op. cit., p. 259.
  16. Gene V. Glass and Mary Fifty. Smith, “Meta-Analysis of Inquiry on the Relationship of Class Size and Achievement,”
    Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, vol. one, no. one (1979), pp. 2–xvi.
  17. Yakov M. Epstein and Robert A. Karlin, “Furnishings of Acute Experimental Crowding,”
    Periodical of Applied Social Psychology, vol. 5, no. 1 (1975), pp. 34–53.
  18. Frank Lyman, “The Responsive Class Discussion,” in
    Mainstreaming Digest, A. Southward. Anderson, ed. (College Park, Md.: University of Maryland College of Education, 1981).
  19. James Fifty. Cooper and Pamela P. Robinson, “Getting Started: Informal Small-Grouping Strategies in Large Classes,” in
    New Directions for Teaching and Learning—Strategies for Energizing Big Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities, Jean MacGregor et al., eds. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000), pp. 17–24.
  20. Karl A. Smith, “Structured Controversy,”
    Technology Education, vol. 74, no. 5 (1984), pp. 306–309.
  21. Jakob Neilson,
    Usability Engineering
    (San Francisco: Morgan Kaufman, 1993).
  22. Stephen Kaplan and Rachael Kaplan,
    Knowledge and Environment: Performance in an Uncertain World
    (New York: Praeger, 1982).
  23. Jane Bennett,
    The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics
    (Princeton, North.J.: The Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 5.
  24. John McCarthy and Peter Wright, “The Enchantments of Applied science,” in
    Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment, Marker A. Blythe et al., eds. (The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), pp. 81–90.
  25. Philip Fisher,
    Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences
    (Boston, Mass.: Harvard University Printing, 1998).

About the Author

Ken A. Graetz
is the director of e-learning at Winona State Academy, where he is engaged in the development of learning opportunities for WSU kinesthesia and staff members, e-learning project management and back up, and numerous inquiry and development projects. His research interests include squad and group dynamics, social cognition, psychometrics, and computer-supported collaborative work. Graetz received a PhD in psychology from the University of Due north Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1992.

You Attend a Lecture by a Psychologist Who Uses Terms


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