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Setting The Learning Climate

setting-the-learning-climate022First Impressions are significant in so many aspects of our lives.  Training is no exception.  What participants encounter on first entering a training space has lasting impact.  The space may invite wonder, curiosity and a sense of safety or the space can repel participants and discourage engagement.

Have you ever entered a training space and felt deflated by a sense of dead energy or unappealing aesthetics?  Many of us have been daunted by a training space that is sad, sterile or downright ugly.  We ask ourselves, “How can I quickly transform this space into an environment that will support learning?” 


When we set the learning climate, we need to:

  • Create an invitation to participants to actively engage
  • Stimulate excitement and positive anticipation
  • Send signals of safety and respect
  • Generate a sense of social inclusion
  • Appear organized and well-ordered

Setting the learning climate means generating the optimal zone and tone for learning, neither too relaxed, nor too stressed.  Learning requires a little bit of energetic arousal. When people first enter a training space, they need to encounter something tantalizing in the environment to begin the energetic arousal that at the same time keeps them out of the stress zone.


We want to create environments that are brain friendly.  The brain needs to be “humming” and to be ready for insight spikes that are central to learning.  When we create an energetic foundation, by introducing something rich and even provocative in the space, we are encouraging the brain to awaken to new experience and insights.

If the brain is unhappy or fearful about a learning situation, it will close its synapses so information won’t be received.  The brain sends a chemical to the synapses saying nope, not taking this in

It may seem that a dead energy room is simply unfortunate and not of particular consequence, but in a stale learning environment, participants may not be in a cognitive and emotional space for the initial phase of training.  They may not be in a receptive state for the foundational context of the session and may be playing catch-up the rest of the time.


We set the environment in a way that suggests the essence, the core meaning of what will be learned in the session.  The environment will actually teach in a peripheral, suggestive way.  The environment actually offers the initial lesson when participants enter the space.

The space needs to be alive with art, metaphoric images, overview graphics, symbolic representations that convey messages on their own.  There might be a special curiosity table with displays of natural objects, hands on items to manipulate, sample models appropriate for the context, and art supplies to encourage creativity.  The environment might have an invitation to immediate participation through designated space for impromptu creativity.

Color is significant in changing the mood of a space.  Gray suggests a gray outlook, but red stimulates excitement and action.  Simply adding color to a room as well as appropriate music can transform a space.  Be prepared in some situations to shift the predominant scent in a room.

Even from the entryway, the environment needs to convey the sense that ‘magic’ can happen.


Here are some examples from recent international trainings.

  • Turkey

-Symbols and themes from 1001 Nights including the Genie

-Focal area of special objects people brought from their home to symbolize home

  • Saudi Arabia

-Generated a sense of an oasis in the room

-Creativity table

  • India

-Arch at the entryway to reflect Indian culture

-visuals on the wall that describe purpose and outcome

-graphics done by local artist, and an arch at the entry point reflective of Indian culture

  • South Africa

-Symbols of local culture

-Wisdom sticks

When we set the learning climate, we establish a suggestive thread that invites learning and permeates the session. The environment supports the training “arc”, pulls it together, and provides an encouraging metaphor for thinking in multiple ways.  It involves the whole brain and encourages multiple intelligences to engage.

Barbara Pennington, Senior Partner

You can also read this article at ParCenTra’s website

Setting The Learning Climate