5 steps to build the best learning environment

Prof Subrata Chakraborty on how to create an educational environment that will stimulate students’ desire to learn

We have come to live in a knowledge-based society in which technology, creativity and innovation are of fundamental importance for economic growth and social development for any country. This has brought with it significant challenges for higher education institutions.

 

They are under pressure to perform in a global competitive environment and are busy re-thinking a lot of areas including the pedagogy they employ and the technology they deploy. Among several pertinent questions that could come up the most basic and yet complex question is: How can we create an educational environment that will stimulate students’ interest and their desire to learn? Thus for the education managers of today it is important to figure out how to provide the learning process participants with an efficient and attractive educational environment that can improve outcomes and also help their institutions to stay competitive.

 1. Understand the educational environment

The educational environment contains several subsystems, which are diverse and yet interconnected, posing a plethora of challenges to education managers. On the one hand institutions can be viewed as made up of organisational resources comprising of tangibles, semi-tangibles, and intangibles— such as physical and technological, instructional, psychological On the other hand these are social institutions which function on relationships shaped between people who comprise these organisations where intellectual capital acts as the all-important glue, linking various levels of environment.

To make any improvement, the internal educational environment must not be seen as a mere compilation of independent elements that can be assessed separately. The only way to make the system efficient and effective is to create seamless integration of all subsystems. A critical challenge before the education managers, therefore, is to understand how a qualitative change in one subsystem is going to play out on other subsystems, thereby affecting the entire system.

2. Do not take students at face value

Students can be viewed as “work-in-progress” as well as “customer”, as they are learning process participants at one level, and members of intellectual community at another. As learning-process participants they seldom realise that true learning begins when one is able to read the world, rather than the word. To instill such a realisation, development of the ability of learning to learn is critical. Education’s role is not to impart skills per se but to empower one with an ability to acquire new skills lifelong.

As unsophisticated customers the students are likely to get carried way by apparent surface level gloss and glamour of things, rather than being always able to necessarily separate the woods from the trees. Education managers ought to be specifically aware of this, and adopt a proactive approach to meaningfully address the student expectations

3. Use student feedback well

Student feedback has now become commonplace in majority of our institutions. However, a number of institutions have introduced this practice, just because everyone else seems to be doing so, without putting any thought behind the intent of taking this feedback.

Most of them use it to merely evaluate the teachers, and use the information to dispense incentives or disincentives to them. What is often overlooked is the fact that even if an institution has many effective teachers there could be other factors that may make the institution languish as a whole. This is not to say that feedback system is to be done away with.

The point is, the performance of the entire system is much more important than just those of the teachers. Feedback should be seen as a procedure for obtaining knowledge, which can be used to develop effective education management systems. The focus should be on bridging the gaps between students’ expectations and institutions’ real offerings, which covers a much bigger canvas than merely a teacher’s course-delivery. Education management calls for a combination of things such as, intent management, content management, action management as well as performance management.

4. Do not treat education as merely a business

Education quality may be viewed from the perspective of two different models—process and satisfaction. In the process model, quality is enhanced through betterment of the internal process of transformation, whereas in the satisfaction model, it is enhanced by meeting expectations of the students and other stakeholders that matter.

Willy-nilly, quality has come to occupy the center stage in today’s education because, over the years, education has become more of a product. Consequently, the institutions are faced with enormous pressure to become customer–centric. Unfortunately, many institutions have reduced customer centricity to mere slogans, rather than truly imbibing its essentials in letter and spirit. Important point to note in this context is, the customer model cannot be directly transferred from business arena to educational environment as educational institutions, by their very nature, need to be learner-centric as opposed to being customer centric in the business sense.  Therefore, in educational environment, “value” metaphor assumes greater importance than the “customer” metaphor.

5. Become student centric

For an educational institution to become student centered the anchoring belief has to be that teaching is intended to assist students to construct their own knowledge, to ensure their constant self-development, and help them to become self-motivated. As of now, not many of our institutions have imbibed this belief. But, the limited few that have done it continue to progress unhindered, and remain largely unaffected by the so-called rat race.

 These institutions allow students to interact with their environment in an active, critical, and reflective way, which helps in empowering the students to become members of intellectual community. In today’s times, even to stay relevant— let alone make progress—education managers need to use a vast variety of data from multiple sources so as to understand the context they are operating in, given that our modern educational institutions are in the course of constant evolution.

In such a situation the main questions that are to be answered on an ongoing basis are:

1. What educational environment aspects to assess?

2. What assessment criteria and indicators to use?

3. What data collection procedures to employ?

4. How to use obtained information most effectively?

 Meaningful answers drawn out from the above questions will surely help the institutions in their effort to make progress and will also assist in finding ways to help students realize that success is the sum

Author’s BIO

Prof Subrata Chakraborty is former Dean and Director in- Charge of Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow. He is also the former Director, Jaipuria Institute of Management, Lucknow. He has taught at NITIE Mumbai, Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management, S P Jain institute of Management Research, Indian Statistical Institute, VJTI. He was a member of the Board of Governors of IIM Lucknow, and of National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, New Delhi


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