Natural Critical Learning Environment

Natural critical learning environments is a concept that I have come across when it comes to getting students engaged and interested in learning and understanding content.


People tend to learn most effectively (in ways that make a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on the way they think, act, or feel) when:

  1. They are trying to solve problems (intellectual, physical, artistic, practical, abstract, etc.) or create something new that they find intriguing, beautiful, and/or important;
  2. They are able to do so in a challenging yet supportive environment in which they can feel a sense of control over their own education;
  3. They can work collaboratively with other learners to grapple with the problem;
  4. They believe that their work will be considered fairly and honestly; and
  5. They can try, fail, and receive feedback from expert learners in advance of and separate from any summative judgment of their efforts.


It appears to be a very simple framework for teachers to adopt and encourages a less anxiety driven learning experience allowing the learner to fail and learn from it in a consequence free environment. Failure is an important part of a learning process because it helps us consolidated our understanding of concepts and when failure is met by proper support and feedback it allows the students to feel more confident in tackling challenging problems.

This type of framework can be considered similar to sandbox environments in video games where it is up to the learner to create, fail and try out different ways of structuring an environment to meet a specific need and/or goal. They can try out concepts that interest them, engage with the challenges, fail at them and try again with a better understanding through trial and error. Sandbox style environments also can allow people to work collaboratively together trying to solve a particular problem allowing them to feel more confident when tackling large, unfamiliar and challenging problems.

Further reading and relevant links:

Research Academy for University Learning

Best Teachers Summer Institute


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