Lessons in Learning: The Ultimate Learning Environment

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Many people remember learning the alphabet and multiplication tables. Sometimes facts from history class stick with us or a favorite passage of literature. These are the things that we typically take away from school – the drilled and learned content, as well as relationships formed in the process of learning.

However, do you remember what your school building looked like? How about the classroom – the layout and decorations? It’s easy to forget these seemingly trivial details of our education, but could they be more important to the learning process than we think?

shutterstock_130451009Learning environments can really make or break an educational experience (see this OECD study). They can inspire curiosity, entertain, energize, stimulate, motivate and welcome students…or they can discourage learning and dishearten learners. Think of the rows of chairs facing a blackboard that many of us are used to seeing. What does this encourage? Now watch the following video about the Green School Bali.

What does this learning environment encourage?

Green School in Bali, Indonesia opened in 2008 with 90 students in a location that was formerly jungle and rice fields. The school, which offers preschool through high school education, was founded by John and Cynthia Hardy. Its vision “is of a natural, holistic, student-centered learning environment that empowers and inspires our students to be creative, innovative, green leaders.” Students attend from all over the world to receive this unique experience that focuses on sustainability through education.

While the curriculum itself is a distinct combination of standard core subjects (English, mathematics and science) and experiential learning through hands-on activities and projects, the physical Green School campus is perhaps the most innovative aspect. The “buildings” are constructed of bamboo. Classrooms are open to the outdoors with no walls, allowing a breeze to flow through easily. This feature has a significant impact on learning, according to the school. “It positively affects the quality of relationships, the way that people conduct and behave with [sensitivity] to each other, and it helps those youngsters who are easily distracted in conventional classrooms to focus much more easily on their tasks.” The open concept allows the Balinese music from one class to serve as a backdrop for the bamboo sculpture art class or the Bahasa Indonesian language class. In the primary grades, students study marimba and participate in community-based projects to understand how to help others; middle schoolers can monitor the health of the nearby Ayung River or learn martial arts; high school students complete a Green Stone Project of their own choosing and design as a capstone to their learning. Students work in the campus gardens, go on multi-day camp trips around Bali and run experiments in the natural environment all around them in order to learn how to live sustainably in the world. To learn more about the school and the inspiration behind its creation, watch Founder John Hardy’s TED Talk:

Not only does Green School inspire its students, but it has a lasting impact on adults who work there, as well as those who visit. A recent article in The Huffington Post shares the transformation of a disheartened educator who had decided never to teach again. After a visit to the school in Bali, M. Shannon Hernandez said, “I was invigorated by the learning environments that can be created when school leaders, communities, and teachers work together to propose quality education rooted in experiential learning and authentic experiences.”

Green School has even kindled something in me – and I haven’t had the chance to visit (yet!). Just think what this kind of open environment could do for learning if it were more widespread. I imagine we’d be seeing a great deal more creativity and enthusiasm among students. What do you think?

Would you like to attend or be a part of a school like Green School?

Here are a few resources about learning environments:


Editorial and Education Research Project Manager, Bon Education

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