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Factors that influence the ability of learners to absorb knowledge have been widely studied. Factors affecting the learning ability of students include internal factors such as attitude, or environmental factors. Environmental factors can be defined simply as the external physical and non-physical characteristics that surround the learner. Environmental factors can easily affect the psychological state of the learner and thus the ability of the learner to absorb knowledge.
Environmental Factors Affecting Learning
An active learning environment that encourages student participation allows students to learn easily and to absorb much more knowledge. Involving students in the learning process by discussing how they want to learn, encouraging debates, and discussions on the subject matter have been pointed out by teachers as some of the ways they encourage learning. Students are bound to learn more if they view the subject matter as interesting and something more, beyond just classwork. Participatory environments also encourage peer instruction, where students can easily identify who in the class needs more help in learning the subject matter and assign another student to help them. Through class participation students are able to expand their knowledge beyond books to life in general, and apply what they have learned in class to their day to day activities.
The relationship of a student and a teacher is perhaps one of the most fundamental in influencing the ability of the student to learn. Positive teacher student relationships are based on mutual respect and open support. The bond created between the teacher and the student is aimed at emotional support for academic excellence. Students who have positive relationships with their teachers put in more effort in school because they are trying to impress their teachers and do not want to feel that they have let them down. Students' learning in such conditions of positive social and emotional environments exhibit fewer risk behaviors and overall more positive well-being and academic performance (Bonny et al., 2000; Nutbeam et al., 1993; Havlinova & Scheidrova, 1995; Blum McNeely & Rinehart, 2002). Negative relationships on the other hand, create an environment in which the student cannot learn.
Teachers and parents are partners in educating children. The cooperation between them significantly increases the ability of the student to perform. Teacher parent conferences allow both the teacher and the parent to explore factors that they can change or enhance to improve the student's ability to learn. It has been noted that children whose parents are actively involved in their learning experience and those who interact with the teachers on a periodical basis perform much better than students whose parents take a back seat when it comes to the school matters. This kind of relationship often leads to disciplined learners and allows the parent, the teacher and the student to chart a plan that will increase the student's ability to learn and improve their performance.
Teachers need to set up and environment in which they can discuss with the student their personal expectations for themselves. This is because a student with high expectations for themselves will tend to work towards his goals more fervently than a student who has no goals. For example a student who has the expectations to attend an ivy league college will learn more than a student whose community and teachers have little or no expectation for.
A student's daily routine will also affect the ability of the student to learn. A student, who wakes up to study, engage with friends and has few chores to help in the house, will be more alert and ready to learn. Children who come from child headed families where the parents are either absent or unable to fulfill their duties are mostly too tired and lack the alertness required to learn. Some children wake up early and sleep late, completing chores around the home and taking care of their siblings, and sometimes even the parents. Teachers find that these students are less alert and their performance is pitiful compared to those whose only task is to learn. These students may have been good performers in the past but their ability to absorb knowledge has been hampered by the factors in their home environment.
A student's home life is the very foundation in which learning begins, and has the biggest impact. Armstrong (1998) noted that "If educators could expand their classrooms to the size of each student's neighborhood and hold classes 24 hours a day, they still would not have the impact on learning ability that a home does because of the all-important emotional bond between parent and child formed from the earliest moments of life" (p. 29). There are many factors that derive from the home that affect the student's ability to learn. These factors can have both a positive and, or a negative effect. They include, but are not limited to, being exposed to poverty, alcohol and drug use, depression, anxiety, and the media. Studies have shown that parents who display a positive attitude and provide a stimulating atmosphere for their children are more likely to succeed than those exposed to negative influence.
The home and school environment both play an important role in determining a student's ability to learn. A student's environment should be learner focused both at home and at school. Ultimately, the environment should be geared to helping the student learn and achieve a level of success that is productive to society.