The easiest needs to satisfy according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are the basics. An optimal learning environment needs to be comfortable, safe and have adequate facilities to provide for students’ needs. Washrooms must be not only available, but easily accessible. Rooms need to be reasonably quiet and have adequate heating or air conditioning in order to create an environment in which physical needs are not overriding emotional and mental processes. Sometimes this requires frequent breaks for physical movement, or non-disruptive toys to engage busy hands.
But beside the physical environment, the trainer must strive to create a comfortable environment for ‘Intermediate Needs’. The trainer should take care to make himself familiar and non-threatening to the audience, creating connections between teacher and student. The National Association of Interpretation recommends using guest names and publicizing their achievements. This can easily be summed up by looking after your students’ egos, just as interpreters must be respectful of their visitors’ egos. Everyone loves to learn, but not everyone loves to be taught. Just as interpreters should strive to make their visitors/guests/users active participants in the interpretive experience and not passive recipients, so must an instructor give his students opportunity to find belonging and pride in their achievements during the class.
Finally, Maslow requires the trainer be aware of the ‘Growth Needs’ of the students. In providing for these needs, the trainer must strive to make connections between the topics and the students. He should not feel the need to install these connections, as a bridge builder, but instead further the students’ active involvement to allow for personal revelation. Opportunities for discussion and reasoning, and opportunities to do these at the students’ own pace will be necessary. At this level of interaction with a topic, the teacher truly becomes the “guide on the side” and not the “sage on the stage”, and the student reaches conclusions on their own initiative. This is what Maslow described as “peak experience”, or “Buddha Moments” for others.
Finally, an optimal learning environment is not purely a physical space. In 2008’s Personal Interpretation, Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman warn that one “should be aware that most guests won’t climb the entire staircase each tour.” Students should be given the resources and opportunity to revisit the subject again after the classroom time. Whether it is at their leisure or at a planned rehearsal, the student will have had the time to incorporate the maslowian comfort of the previous session. They will then hopefully be ready to reinforce the opportunities for personal growth and the “peak experience.”