Factors leading to behaviours that can disrupt a learning environment.

Last Updated on 12/11/2021 by James Barron

“The majority of learners genuinely want to learn and will display appropriate attitudes and behaviours, it cannot be assumed that this is the case for all learners and some will present challenges that have to be met.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 222) The vast majority of classes I teach do not suffer from challenging behaviour, although some low level disruption does occur that requires attention. The Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) define challenging behaviour as:

  • behaviours that disrupt routine teaching and interfere with the concentration of other learners
  • violent or offensive behaviour that interferes with ‘routine activity’
  • behaviours which offend, ridicule or intimidate other learners
  • non-engagement in learning

(LSDA), 2007, p. 2)

I will focus on 5 examples of challenging behaviour: cheating, bullying, refusal to work, not wearing a lanyard and low-level disruption. There are many potential factors that can lead to behaviour that will disrupt a learning environment. Many of the factors are the same for a variety of negative behaviours, for example, each of the examples should have been covered in detail within class ground rules. “In a positive environment, inappropriate behaviour is less likely when the learner sees that they risk stepping outside of the social norms within the organisation.” (Machin, Hindmarch, Murray, & Richardson, 2016, p. 75)


A student being able to copy from another student is a serious issue within the class, especially during assessments. It is likely that once the student has been able to cheat their way through an activity they will continue to do so in future classes, resulting in an unwillingness to learn the material. A student cheating can result in other low-level disruption, such as other students being distracted or in even more extreme challenging behaviour, such as in the event the student who is being copied responds negatively.

Students being able to cheat by copying from one another can be due to the room layout and adjusting the seating plan can rectify this issue. There is another more important cause, it is likely that a student feels the need to copy from another student as they don’t feel confident in their knowledge of the subject. This is directly attributed to the lecturer not sufficiently checking learning throughout teaching the material.


A student being bullied will have a huge impact on that student and also other members of the group. It is likely the student being bullied will no longer wish to fully participate within classes and may not attend classes at all. If the bullying is not handled it may seem as if the victim is displaying poor behaviour. Bullying, whether it is verbal, physical or both, should not be tolerated within any class environment. All educational establishments treat bullying extremely seriously and consider it to be gross misconduct, resulting in a severe response on the disciplinary procedure. It is possible that a student who is bullying others is suffering from family issues or other issues outside of the class, this will be investigated during the disciplinary procedure.

Refusal to work

A student that is refusing to work will consciously or subconsciously distract others from working. It is essential that a student who refuses to work either starts working or is removed from the class. It is part of all teaching organisations codes of conduct that students must participate within classes. It is possible that a student refusing to work is due to the student struggling, it is common that a student would rather appear lazy than be perceived as stupid, of course the student is not stupid. It is essential that students understand how serious it is for them to not participate within classes and should be covered during the induction phase. In the event a student does refuse to work, giving the student a new highly focused task is a method to assess if the student wants to participate or should leave. This task can also be used as clear evidence during the disciplinary procedure.

Students and lecturers having a good rapport can be essential when it comes to students starting to work again after refusing to work. This may be due to the level of respect the student has for the lecturer or the lecturer’s ability to relate to the student and apply the task in a form the student understands, finds relevant and, as a result, wants to complete. This is a good opportunity to make use of the group profile and the existing knowledge of the student, such as their strengths, motivations, etc. This does not mean lecturers should become friends with the students as this can result in a lack of respect and poor behaviour. “A balance needs to be found in which a professional distance is maintained whilst establishing a good working relationship, which leads to effective communication and promotes cooperation in all classroom activities.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 226)

Not wearing a lanyard

Many educational establishments insist that all staff and students must wear their ID badge within a lanyard at all times while on premises, this is an essential security measure. It is common for students to forget or prefer not to wear their lanyard and ID badge. This is normally easily rectified by questioning the student about where the ID badge is, if they do not have their ID badge with them, a visitor badge can be obtained from reception. There are many reasons that cause students to not want to wear their student ID, such as not being educated about why they should wear their ID, inconsistent staff checks and staff not setting a good example by not wearing their own ID.

Low-level disruption

“Low-level disruption can be persistent in nature and constantly having to deal with it can be a draining experience.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 224) A common low-level disruption in my classes is the use of bad language when a task the student has been assigned is not going to plan, e.g. a program crashing will often result in swearing, this is something I frequently need to address. Although I will tackle the bad behaviour directly in the form of making a comment to the student about their language, I will also check the progress of the student as this is often a sign they are becoming frustrated with their work, this can escalate into students refusing to participate during the class. Constant enforcement of this low-level disruption is required, as although the actual behaviour is “fairly insignificant, their cumulative effect can be significant.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 224)

(LSDA), L. a. (2007). What’s Your Problem? Working with Learners with Challenging Bahaviour. London: Learning and Skills Network.

Gould, J., & Roffey-Barentsen, J. (2014). Achieving your diploma in education and training (1st ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Machin, L., Hindmarch, D., Murray, S., & Richardson, T. (2016). A Complete Guide to the Level 5 Diploma in Education & Training (Second Edition ed.). St Albans: Critical Publishing.

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Author Profile

James Barron
My first experience of teaching was in 2016, when I was asked to
deliver a talk to a group of 16-year-olds on what it was like to start
your own business. I immediately knew I wanted to become more
involved in teaching but I didn’t know where to start as I had not
previously considered a career in education. A few weeks later I
agreed to teach a class of Chinese students from the Shanghai
Technical Institute of Electronics and Information, who had travelled
to the UK to learn English and Software Engineering, after that I was
hooked. Within the next few years, I taught hundreds of students of
many different nationalities, aged from 16 to 60, and from
levels 2 to 6. I focused my time teaching with Bath University and
Bath College for several more years until I felt a change was in order.
For the last few years, I have taught remotely with several private
training organisations, provided dedicated one to one coaching
sessions, provided consultancy on teaching and assessment practices
and written about my experiences as a teacher. I plan to continue
with my current activities for the foreseeable future but I’m always
open to new teaching experiences.

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