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The classroom refers to a general, widely found, class of learning environments with the following characteristics:

  • A single (primary) explainer and multiple (usually, at least three) learners, all within the same room (i.e., in geographical proximity), with the explainer usually at the front of the room and having access to tools such as chalkboards or display screens for showing slides or computer screens.
  • The explainer is generally considered the authority figure of the classroom. The explainer controls the main action in the classroom (the use of the chalkboards or display screens, as well as all loud conversation), though individual pieces of it may be delegated to different learners.
  • With respect to the material being covered, learners are expected to have sufficiently similar levels of background knowledge to make the classroom setting feasible; in practice, there may be significant differences between learners' background.

In the classroom context, the explainer may be referred to as a teacher or instructor, and the learner may be referred to as a student.

Note that when we use the term "classroom", we are not referring to the physical room itself; the same physical room could be used for many different "classroom"s when the explainer, learner, or material covered change.


Classrooms are seen in many different contexts:

Type of classroom Where it's found Typical distinguishing characteristics
School classroom where the learners form a "section" of the school student body that studies many subjects together At least up till middle school and in many cases up till high school in many countries Students in the school are grouped (primarily based on age) into grades (classes). Students within each grade are grouped into sections. For the most part, students in the same section attend all courses together, and are usually tied to a single physical room (exceptions may includes classes that require specific equipment or more specialization, such as physical training and music).
School or college classroom where students have signed up for a course together Most college and university courses are structured like this. Some high school elective courses are also similarly structured The set of learners is the set of students who have signed up for a course, and more specifically for a particular section of the course with the specific instructor. The act of signing up may be constrained by various factors, such as degree requirements that cause them to sign up, availability of slots, time constraints, and prerequisite requirements imposed by the educational institution. In most such cases, the majority of students are close by in educational stage (e.g., the same year of college) but there could be a few students at much earlier or later overall educational stages; there could also be courses where the set of learners is not clustered around a specific educational stage.
Seminar or colloquium (single or series) Typically found in universities, these are individual talks or series of talks where a domain expert presents material to an audience that has some interest in the domain but may not know as much The "learners" in this case are voluntary and, in many cases, walk-in: they choose to attend the seminar or colloquium, and are under no obligation to attend or stay. The learners may include people who are peers of or even senior to the explainer.

Parameters to evaluate classrooms on

The set of learners

The characteristics of a classroom are controlled largely by the set of learners. Some relevant parameters:

Parameter or parameter type What it means How it matters
Classroom size Number of learners The explainer's ability to provide individual attention to learners reduces as classroom size increases. However, larger classroom sizes allow for some classroom dynamics that are not possible with smaller sizes. (For instance, cold calling, polling, and interactive class discussions could work better for larger classrooms).
Prerequisites range and gap The extent to which the learners have various prerequisite knowledge and skills, and the extent of variation between learners in this knowledge and skills. An explainer is supposed to assist all learners with learning. Usually, large gaps in prerequisites between learners is a hindrance because the explainer cannot choose a single pace and method of explanation that works for all learners. In some cases, the explainer can turn it to an advantage by having the learners who are ahead assist the learners who are behind, or using other methods.
Interestedness range and gap The extent to which learners are interested in learning, and the gap between the most and least interested learners. Similar to prerequisites, interestedness can affect the strategy used by the explainer. For more interested learners, the explainer may cover some details that would satisfy their curiosity, whereas for less interested learners, the explainer may focus on covering the key points forcefully and highlighting why those should be interesting or relevant. A wide range of interestedness among learners poses a challenge for the explainer in selecting a strategy.