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May 1, 1997
Vol. 54
No. 8

Using the Learning Environment Inventory

How do your students rate their classroom on its cohesion, absence of friction and favoritism, and other social and academic factors? The Learning Environment Inventory lets you find out.

Students' emotional development is tied to the social and emotional climate they experience as they grow up, particularly the amount of stimulation, respect, and care they derive from their families, peer groups, and—not least of all —schools. Well-being and academic achievement do not constitute an either-or proposition; each enhances the other.
In optimal environments, children and adolescents and adults as well enjoy themselves more and get more done (Moos 1991). Under less desirable conditions, they harbor resentments and ill will, their productivity declines, and their alienation prevents their energies from flowing into their work. In fact, research has shown that the classroom social environment is one of the chief psychological determinants of academic learning (Walberg 1984).
Further, students' feelings about their classes not only affect their interest and engagement in the subject matter but also help them acquire essential social skills. Even when the instruction is intensive and the students' abilities considerable, these factors count for little if students see their classmates as uncooperative or their teachers as unfair (Fraser 1991, Walberg 1991).

Taking Stock

What social qualities of your classroom promote learning and what qualities impede it? Researchers have found ways of measuring the social climate of classrooms, and their findings suggest specific steps that educators can take. For junior and senior high schools, the Learning Environment Inventory is a widely used measure.
Educators have used this scale to evaluate new curriculums, instructional methods, and programs for racial desegregation and violence prevention. The counterpart for elementary schools is the My Class Inventory (Fraser et al. 1991).
Figure 1 shows the 15 features of classroom groups that the Learning Environment Inventory measures. Each feature is accompanied by a sample statement. For example, for "Cohesiveness," the statement is "Students know one another very well." For "Favoritism," it is "Every student enjoys the same privileges." Students rate how well these statements describe their classroom on a five-point scale: strongly agree, agree, unsure, disagree, and strongly disagree.

Figure 1. Students Rate Their Classroom Environment

Using the Learning Environment Inventory - table

Environment Feature

Number of Comparisons

Percent Positive Influence on Learning


Sample Item

Satisfaction17100Enjoyment of workThere is considerable satisfaction with the classwork.
Challenge1687Difficulty with workStudents tend to find the work hard to do.
Cohesiveness1786Whether students know, help, and are friendly toward one anotherStudents know one another very well.
Physical Environment1585Availability of adequate books, equipment, space, and lightingStudents can easily get the books and equipment they need or want in the classroom.
Democracy1485Extent to which students share equally in class decision makingClass decisions tend to be made by all the students.
Goal direction1573Clarity of goalsThe class knows exactly what it has to get done.
Competition967Emphasis on competitionStudents seldom compete with one another.
Formality1765Extent to which formal rules guide behaviorThe class if rather informal and afew rules are imposed.
Speed1454How quickly class work is coveredStudents do not have to hurry to finish their work.
Diversity1431Extent to which student interests differ and differences are provided forStudents have many different interests.
Apathy1514Student affinity with class activitiesMembers of the class don't care what the class does.
Favoritism1510Teacher favoritismEvery student enjoys the same privileges.
Cliquishness138Extent to which some students refuse to mix with othersCertain students work only with their close friends.
Disorganization176Extent to which activities are confusing and poorly organizedThe class is well organized and efficient.
Friction170Tension and quarreling among studentsCertain students instigate petty quarrels.
Adapted from the Learning Environment Inventory (Fraser et al. 1991).
The numbers show how many times each feature was investigated in our research study and the percentage of times the feature resulted in positive influences on learning outcomes. For example, a classroom characterized as "challenging" influenced learning positively 87 percent, or 14 of the 16 times investigated. As we would expect, apathy and favoritism rarely showed positive influences on learning.

Tallying the Results

In general, students in highly-rated classes achieved more academically and had more positive attitudes toward the subject matter. These students also engaged more often in nonrequired activities related to the subject matter. In science classes, for example, students were more likely to read science articles in newspapers and to go to zoos and science museums.
In short, the study confirmed that students learn more when their classes are satisfying, challenging, and friendly and they have a voice in decision making. The study also showed, however, that students need structure, direction, and organization to make sense of their classes. When classes are unfriendly, cliquish, and fragmented, they leave students feeling rejected and therefore impede learning.
In designing the Learning Environment Inventory, we derived the statements from questionnaires that businesses, military agencies, and other adult workplaces used in their research. Not surprisingly, the workplace research also showed that work groups with good morale enjoy their work and get more done.
Our findings demonstrate that we should select lessons and set the pace of learning so as to challenge students appropriately. We should clarify goals and organize lessons to help students make the most efficient use of their time.
As for the social climate of the classroom, allowing students to share their ideas through teams and cooperative groups is one way to promote democratic decision making and foster cohesiveness and satisfaction in the classroom. In addition, by helping students recognize that they all share certain ideas and feelings, a teacher can help prevent cliques from forming and generally reduce social friction. Activities such as role-playing exercises will help students gain insights into how others feel. In fact, educators themselves may need such exercises to help them avoid favoring some students over others.

Looking Beyond the Classroom

Though research on the social and emotional qualities of classrooms began a quarter century ago, it is especially pertinent today for several reasons. First, the social and political pressure for greater student achievement is accelerating. In addition, educators, like businesspeople and other professionals, are increasingly realizing the importance of satisfying their customers. In the case of educators, a satisfied customer—one whose feelings are considered—is also a successful learner.
Though educators rightfully emphasize achievement, they should also think of motivating their students and awakening a love of learning for its own sake. Affectionately remembered classes sustain interest in learning in the workplace and over a lifetime.
Finally, well-organized, satisfying classrooms foster responsibility, humaneness, and mutual respect—the very social skills students need to participate productively in our civil society.

Fraser, B.J. (1991). "Two Decades of Classroom Environment Research." In Educational Environments: Evaluation, Antecedents, and Consequences, edited by B.J. Fraser and H.J. Walberg. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.

Fraser, B.J., G.J. Anderson, and H.J. Walberg. (1991). Assessment of Learning Environments: Manual for Learning Environment Inventory (LEI) and My Class Inventory (MCI). Perth, Western Australia: Curtin University of Technology, Science and Mathematics Education Center.

Moos, R.H. (1991). "Connections Between School, Work, and Family Settings." In Educational Environments: Evaluation, Antecedents, and Consequences, edited by B.J. Fraser and H.J. Walberg. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.

Walberg, H.J. (1991). "Educational Productivity and Talent Development." In Educational Environments: Evaluation, Antecedents, and Consequences, edited by B.J. Fraser and H.J. Walberg. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.

Walberg, H.J. (May 1984). "Improving the Productivity of America's Schools." Educational Leadership 41, 8: 19-27.

Herbert J. Walberg has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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