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Creating the Ideal Learning Environment

Ideal learning environments don't just happen, they're facilitated by skilled trainers!

We think great training begins with the trainer's approach. As trainers, we see every training event as an adventure to be carried out with a great sense of humour and an attitude of humility and wonder. We are simply learners who happen to have the additional responsibility of leading other learners. Paramount to our style is the acceptance of each learner as an individual and the recognition of their importance to the workshop process.

We have brainstormed and discussed ideal learning experiences with the many participants of the Capacity Train the Trainer workshops. We have been awed by the stories of personal learning experiences of participants throughout western Canada. From those shared anecdotes and discussions we've identified some of the things you as the trainer might do to create an atmosphere for ideal learning experiences to occur.

Keeping in mind the Medicine Wheel, we have now arranged the key points into four parts: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual environments. Our previous two articles were about creating the ideal physical and intellectual environments - in this article we're focusing on practical ways to build a healthy emotional environment.

Here are ten ways to create a healthy emotional learning environment:
1. Lead with a positive attitude.
Most adult's lives contain plenty of complications that create stress. Many of our learners are inundated by negativity. Why let this invade your learning environment? Work to make your training sessions an oasis for learners. A positive learning environment begins with a positive, enthusiastic leader.

2. Establish an emotionally safe and friendly learning environment.
This entails using techniques and strategies that make it safe to learn. Foster an atmosphere of equality and mutual respect between all participants - learners and trainers. Build trust and confidence by keeping information or discussions confidential. Facilitate the sharing of ideas, experiences and information. As facilitator, value each learner and his or her input. Participants who feel good about themselves are more encouraged to become emotionally involved in the learning.

3. Teach topics that are interesting to you.
There is a certain contagious nature to emotions. If you are passionate about the topics you teach, you are more likely to elicit emotional involvement from your learners. Conversely, a dull boring presentation tends to lead to a flat training session. Lead with passion, your learners will follow with enthusiasm.

4. Focus on the learner.
Armed with your agenda and learning objectives, place the learner at the centre of your training and watch it come to life. Some actions that foster learner-centered environments are listening empathetically, acknowledging nervousness, showing patience with learners, demonstrating respect and being non-judgmental. Get to know the learners and ensure that your exercises and activities are relevant to their needs. Recognize weaknesses while focusing and building on strengths, both yours and your learners.

5. Build trust.
There are many conditions that lead to higher trust. Each moment houses an opportunity to either increase or decrease trust, from the first contact at the beginning of a session to long after the session is over. Initiate each relationship with a warm smile and a firm handshake. Make the effort to connect with each learner, learn and use their names, and listen empathetically to know and serve their needs. One way to build trust is by asking for volunteers for risky activities instead of assigning arbitrarily. During the session, display honesty in your words and actions. Use appropriate types of humour. Stick to types of humour that all of your learners can enjoy and avoid the kind that degrades or alienates. Recognize that adults are free to make choices. Design your training in a way that compels adults to discuss options and make decisions. Respect their choices, whether you agree with them or not.

6. Create learning adventures!
Build excitement into your activities and make your training fun. Challenge participants to earn their learning. Encourage risk taking and reward effort and energy. Keep your learning objectives in sight and strive to find the most adventurous path to achieve them. Adults rarely argue with their own creations. Place them in the driver's seat as they work their way through the adventure and give them the space to learn their way to the finish line.

7. Encourage supportiveness.
Be supportive and urge learners to be supportive to each another. It is always humbling to experience the impact of seemingly small acts like asking permission, thanking each other, smiling in appreciation, or complimenting a fellow learner on a job well done. Foster a supportive environment by leading applause, thanking learners for input and acknowledging effort and risk-taking.

8. Appeal to a variety of senses, using friendly aromas, creative visuals, nature sounds, healthy food and colourful flowers.
As learners, we tend to associate these things with various feelings and emotional states. Stimulating the participants' emotions in different ways helps to intensify learning experiences and make them more memorable.

9. Use learning circles.
If used effectively, learning circles can level the playing field and remove barriers between all individuals in a training session, both learners and the facilitators. As facilitator, you can influence the focus of each circle while keeping learners in control of their process. Respect and use the guidelines for learning circles.

10. Use music.
A beauty of music is its availability, from various types of canned music to that created and produced by participants as part of the learning process. From simple drumming to more complex music involving difference instruments, music offers a plethora of rich opportunities to influence or draw a full range of emotions into a learning session.

Learners who are stimulated emotionally are more likely to:

- embrace and enjoy your learning activities
- benefit long-term from your learning adventures
- tell and encourage their friends to attend your future workshops.

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