Criteria for Learning Rooms - Training and Development

Different kinds of learning's require different environments. For example, if contemplation and introspection are involved, calm and quiet seem necessary. If the learning requires movement, lots of open space is a must. Even so, there are general criteria. This chapter focuses on traditional training classrooms. Designers of classrooms for technology-mediated learning (computer-based learning, distance learning, etc.) should consult specialized texts or other experts for optimal design characteristics for those rooms.

Experienced instructors will tell you they want flexibility, isolation, lighting control,capacity to accommodate computer equipment, and ventilation. Each of them is important enough to rate individual discussion.

Flexibility

If instructors or course designers had to settle for just one quality in learning rooms,chances are they'd opt for flexibility.

Flexibility is an understandable criterion if you just stop to think about the wide variety of methods professional T&D specialists currently employ. Within one room—probably within one afternoon—class activities may vary from watching a video to fish bowling; from using a computer to appearing on a video camera;from taking part in a discussion to role playing or to doing a bit of meditating. Naturally, the instructor wants a room that can quickly and easily be rearranged.

Flexibility has several dimensions. A major element of flexibility is size. Cramped quarters don't give the needed flexibility or that sense of growth potential needed for the learning experience. One way to estimate the adequacy of a room is to calculate the square feet needed for each participant. Such calculations need to allow for chairs, tables, access, and capacity for course equipment.

For"theater-type" sessions, 9 or 10 square feet per person is about right.Of course, this arrangement limits one to "tell-and-show"presentational methods. Classroom set-ups (rows of chairs, probably with arm-tablets) require from 15 to 17 square feet per participant. Conference arrangements place learners at tables, and require from 23 to 25 square feet per person. The table should allow at least 30 linear inches per person. It should also provide from 18 to 24 inches of depth. This permits learners to spread their papers and learning materials during workshop activities.

For that reason, tables that are 60 inches long are excellent: They offer the minimum working dimensions for participants, but they can be easily shifted to new arrangements. Such flexibility doesn't apply to the 6-foot tables often ordered for training rooms. The 6-foot table offers an additional hazard: the temptation to crowd three people onto each side! It follows that tables 60 inches by 36inches permit two people to sit at each side and provide adequate table-top space and face-to-face seating for two-way communication during discussion and team task activities.

Plenty of space is a "must" if buzz groups are to work simultaneously in a learning center—and there's much to be said for their visible proximity to one another.The synergism produced by such nearness vanishes quickly (as do lots of precious minutes!) if the groups must commute to nearby breakout rooms.

Besides,how often are these rooms truly "nearby"?

Square rooms can be changed on a functional or daily basis. The wall that is "front"today can be the side or rear wall tomorrow. In fact, any wall can be "the front" except the one with the door by which people come and go—and even that can be the focus of a small buzz group when the class is divided into teams,which tend to create their own "environment." Of course, when learners concentrate on what they are doing, the whole idea of"front" becomes passe and meaningless. Rectangular rooms should not be so deep that participants have to strain to talk to other participants at the front of the room, or to hear them. Generally, the bigger the room and the more cavernous the feel, the less discussion and interaction will occur. There is actually greater risk in getting a room too big than one too small. If a room is a bit small, participants may trip over each other a little bit, but the learning still occurs effectively. If the room is too big or the ceiling too high, learning may be inhibited because little interaction occurs.

In any event, astute instructors of multi day training "reorient" the classroom every day or so, allowing students a new perspective and causing them to take seats in different positions and beside different people. That is often healthy action: Those with impaired sight or hearing can privately solve their problems,and everyone becomes acquainted with more members of the class.

At sessions with no visual presentation, tables and chairs can face a different direction.This shift gives a "different feeling" and subtly underlines the theme that during training, change is the name of the game. Ceiling height is important. Anything under ten feet may pose problems for instructors and conference leaders. The screen should be high enough so that learners in the rear can see it "above" and not "around" the heads of people in front of them. Experts urge that the top of the screen be as high as possible. But don't have the ceiling too high, either, if lots of interaction is desired. Acoustical engineering is a special technology, beyond the range of most T&D managers.

However,anyone can check a few things. Carpets should be low pile and nonabsorptive. T&D managers can influence such details when designing new training centers; T&D specialists can check these features when selecting rooms in rented or leased facilities.

Students' chairs should receive careful consideration. Participants just don't learn well if they are uncomfortable! This is one place not to scrimp on the budget. Chairs should be well padded, the backs slightly curved, and provide major support in the lumbar area. Parts that contact the learner (seat and frame)should be constructed of material that does not conduct heat or cold. If desks,or tablet arms, are included, the writing surfaces should be slightly inclined and about twenty-seven inches above the floor.

Isolation

Isolation is another criterion. Isolation implies that the room is sufficiently removed from the workplace—physically or psychologically—so that the learners know they are in training. If the proper policies prevail, such isolation can take place within a few feet of the workplace. Bosses of trainees should understand that when their employees are in training, the instructor is "the boss"and every effort should be made to minimize interrupting trainees. Isolation can also be achieved by policy. Many organizations establish and enforce the"Work equals Learn" philosophy, which simply means that while employees are enrolled in training, the company expects them to acquire the behaviors outlined in the learning objectives.

Effective isolation is further achieved by a policy communicated before reporting to training: Instead of performing regular duties, for the period of the training trainees are expected to achieve the objectives of the program."Learning" is their work.

Thus isolation is both physical and psychological. Considerations in achieving isolation range from getting far away from highways, airports, and loud plumbing to getting away from the boss.

Lighting Control

Lighting control is a prime criterion for visual presentations. Although total darkness is undesirable, excess sunlight can dampen the sensory impact of even the most colorful presentations. One dimension of lighting control is the ability to eliminate light; another is the ability to diminish it by degrees. The advantages of rheostat controls are obvious—especially if there are several. In some designs, different learners will be doing different things simultaneously. Thus,if the instructor can have bright light in one portion of the room and dim light in another, multi method designs are easily executed. When the screen must be placed near permanent light fixtures, there's trouble. If there aren't rheostats to dim them, or switches to eliminate the light, then a ladder and quick twist become the instructor's problem-solving tools.

All learning rooms have the potential problem of glare. Removing naked lamps and glossy surfaces can best prevent glare. Trainers who inherit rooms with glaring lamps and windows should install shades and drapes. Trainers who rent public rooms filled with glossy tables should insist upon tablecloths.

(By the way, here's a tip: When arranging to rent rooms, be sure to insist that there be a tablecloth for each table. Otherwise, when you go to move the tables to fit the changing activities of the design, you'll find that he cloths don't come out evenly and you will waste lots of time adjusting the water glasses and pitchers.)

Lighting control involves more than merely dimming and directing illumination. The computer has become an essential tool of the interrogative mind.

Electrical wiring that will accommodate computer equipment is thus imperative in the contemporary learning room.

Ventilation

Ventilation is another criterion for learning rooms. An additional argument for high ceilings is that when the temperature goes up, so does the heat. But high ceilings will not guarantee good ventilation. Experienced instructors will tell you that ventilation is a "lose-lose" situation. "You can't please all the people any of the time—or any of the people for more than about fifteen minutes at a time!" These old-timers say they prefer to keep things a little on the cool side; they'd rather have people alert than asleep!

Let's emphasize that point about keeping the air moving. T&D managers who are acquiring new learning rooms would be wise to see that there is proper equipment to provide the minimum air velocity of from twelve to fifteen feet per minute.

In summary, by checking rooms for compliance with those four criteria— flexibility,isolation, lighting control, and ventilation—the T&D specialist is more likely to be in quarters where learning can easily happen. Beyond the room itself, instructors and conference leaders can do some things to make room arrangements suitable to the participation planned for each module of the training.


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