6 Questions to Consider When Shopping for a Classroom Learning Center
Whether they’re kids or adults, students learn better when teachers combine visual materials with interactive audio programs.
That’s why learning centers, which use sound to reinforce visual lessons, have become standard classroom AV equipment. They’re also ideal for home schooling, or for brushing up on lessons after school.
Learning centers not only reinforce and enhance visual learning, but also help students with learning differences process information more easily.
What Is a Learning Center?
A learning center combines three components: a media player, a hub to distribute audio signals (either a built-in hub or an external jackbox), and headphones.
Learning centers may seem straightforward enough, but just as there are many different types of CD players or headphones, classroom learning centers can take many forms: cassette, CD, or DVD; mono or stereo; wired or wireless.
Here are 6 questions to help you choose the learning center that’s ideal for you.
1. What kind of media player should you choose?
Many classrooms are equipped with CD and/or cassette players. In this case, you may not need a new media player at all, and a simpler setup that includes headphones and a jackbox will suffice.
However, if you do need a media player, decide whether you’ll be better served by a cassette tape player/recorder or multimedia boombox.
Cassette tape player/recorders are often the more affordable alternative. They also have the advantage of recordability for times when you want to prepare your own lessons, or when you want a quick and easy way to record student responses. They’re also preferred if you already have a large library that includes cassette tapes.
Multimedia boomboxes, on the other hand, are a versatile choice. In addition to CD and cassette playback, some models offer data disk compatibility, USB ports, and SD slots: all critical features for utilizing a wide and evolving range of media formats. In addition, some multimedia boomboxes can play video from DVDs when connected to your existing monitor.
2. How big are your study groups?
The size of a group listening to the same program on their headphones depends on how many audio outputs your media player or external jackbox has.
A jackbox is simply a unit designed to allow attachment of multiple headphones to a single audio player. Most jackboxes can handle between four and eight headsets simultaneously.
Many jackboxes also have individual volume controls for each headset, which comes in handy when students wish to set personally comfortable volume levels.
Some learning centers feature wireless IR or FM headhones. With such systems, the number of wireless headphones you can add is limited only by reception range and your budget.
3. Are your teaching materials (or headphones) mono or stereo?
Whether you need a stereo jackbox or not depends on your curriculum, and what kind of headphones you already have (if any).
Mono jackboxes cost less, and if you’re using a learning center for no-frills, speech-based lessons, mono should well serve your needs.
If you have a stereo player and more sophisticated source material – particularly music – students will require a stereo jackbox to get the most out of the lesson.
If you already have headphones, check to see if they’re mono or stereo, and if your jackbox is compatible with one or the other (or both). Stereo headphones sometimes won’t work with mono jackboxes, and vice versa.
4. Will you take your learning center on the go?
Having an all-in-one learning center complete with media player, headphones and jackbox is great, but how easy is it to move from one classroom to another?
Many learning centers come with handy carrying cases that not only facilitate transport, but also protect the individual components. What’s more, many also feature storage racks to hang and cover the headphones when not in use.
5. Will you need to operate your media player from across the room?
Some learning centers come with remote controls, so you can roam the classroom and still adjust the audio source. Having a remote in hand can save time (and energy) since you won’t have to run across the room to hit the stop button.
6. Will you play back audio without using headphones?
Sometimes you may want to dispense with the headphones and play media for an entire classroom. For this reason, nearly all media players for classroom learning centers feature built-in amps and speakers.
To make sure everyone in class can hear your audio program, be sure to pay attention to the wattage of your media player. Wattage is simply the amount of power your media player puts out with its internal amplifier. The more Watts your player has, the louder it will get.
If you’re instructing in larger classrooms or outside, you’ll need greater wattage than in a small room. Lower wattage means you’ll have to turn up the volume, which could distort the audio in the process.
A good, conservative rule of thumb when estimating power is 1 Watt per student.
Now Pick the Classroom Learning Center That’s Right for You
Now that you have an idea what to look for, have a look at our wide selection of classroom learning centers by Amplivox, Califone, and Hamilton.
While you’re at it, check out our entire line of classroom audio products! Still have questions? Call 1-800-263-0112 or email for a free consultation with our staff of classroom AV experts.