June 25, 2019
Discover the impact of classroom design, as it reveals how we can improve our education system to increase productivity, creativity, motivation and engagement within Australian schools.
I am sure we can all agree things aren’t the same as they once were 100 years ago, with Australia becoming an independent nation in 1901, to the Equal Opportunity Act in 1984, it’s fair to say things have changed.
Except our classroom design, which still follows the same model that was created during the Industrial Revolution, despite with new research and studies showing positive results from classroom design changes.
You may be familiar with its design and layout; rows or columns of desks with the teacher standing at the front.
A study completed in Germany questioned the seating layout of a classroom and found that students were more receptive when seated in a semicircle as opposed to rows and columns; what we’re more acquainted with growing up in Australia.
Eric Newton Innovation Chief at Arizona State University in the US mentioned the physical design of the space absolutely helps, especially when it comes to promoting collaboration. He went on to say that it’s important that we prepare our students for a future they can’t imagine, and how to succeed in a century of adaptability, creativity, empathy, and problem-solving.
“The best ideas come in a collaborative environment,” he said.
This conversation has been brought about through the significant changes that have been applied in the work environment, such as Silicon Valley where companies like Google and Apple were founded.
With this ‘incubator’ concept in mind, are we giving our children the best learning environment to succeed?
To get a better understanding, we have broken down this concept into sections including design, floors/walls, and furniture, and how it can be applied in a classroom environment to increase productivity, encourage creativity and collaboration, and improve motivation.
The impact of design in a classroom environment
Nothing is more important than ensuring your child receives the best possible education they can get and this is quite evident in funding, professional development for teachers and the implementation of standardised testing such as year 11 and 12 ATAR examinations.
However, when it comes to classroom design, which has a significant impact on students ability to learn, is often an afterthought.
The structural design and layout of a classroom; Innovative Learning Environments, can influence the learning outcomes of students to encourage collaboration, stimulate creativity and productivity, and increase motivation.
A study conducted by the University of Salford in the UK found that flexible spaces boosted academic performance by 16% when the aspects of the classroom including lighting, layout and colour had been optimised.
The impact of lighting
Lighting in a classroom environment has significant impact on the students ability to engage and perform, with a direct relation to how it affects their mood and behaviour. The use of natural light helps create a sense of physical and mental comfort, it’s softness and diffused quality can invoke positivity and result in happier students. When examining the impact of natural light and sources of artificial light in classrooms, results showed that good lighting significantly influenced reading vocabulary and science test scores.
The impact of layout
If you think back to some of the classrooms you occupied in as a student or how classes are portrayed on television, you’re most likely visualising an industrial standardise layout that consisted of teacher standing at the front talking to rows or columns of students.
However, research has shown that simply rearranging the rows of desks into groups or semicircles actually improves all aspects of learning. Creating an all-inclusive learning space at the heart of the room with flexible tables, comfortable chairs and various writing surfaces allowed for a variety of activities and encouraged collaborative learning.
A private school founded by ‘one of the most influential women in technology’, Susan Wu, is located in Melbourne and has taken the incubator concept to an educational level. There are no desks, with students encouraged to use whiteboards, bean bag chairs, couches and creator spaces.
The impact of colour
As humans we are driven by our senses – what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch – which can be applied in the classroom using colour. Visual stimulation from aesthetically pleasing colours, whether it be bright, bold or vibrant, can enhance the classroom environment and increase engagement, performance, and motivation by indirectly affecting mood and behaviour.
The impact of flooring in a classroom environment
Whether it’s a nursery, daycare, school or university, there’s more to consider other than price and design, with flooring having a significant impact in a classroom environment. You need to consider the acoustics, comfort and colour, in conjunction with its practicality, maintenance, longevity, and sustainability.
A noisy classroom is distracting for both students and teachers and can be further intensified with incorrect floor types. High noise and reverberation levels have been linked to hinder speech intelligibility, reading and spelling abilities, affect behaviour and attention, and concentration. An effective learning environment fundamentally requires an acoustic flooring type that absorbs sound and reduces noise.
Commercial flooring types to consider can include carpet and textile composites, which can control noise more effectively with noise reduction capabilities and sound absorption.
Soft cushy carpet can transform the coldest of hard rooms into a warm comforting place. In a classroom carpet can be an invaluable addition to help create flexible learning spaces and increase comfort levels for students who can sit, stand, and even lie down. As well as helping with the acoustics and encouraging quieter speech, carpets increase underfoot comfort and reduce muscle fatigue for teachers who may be on their feet for most of the day.
The colour and design of carpet in a classroom environment has a significant impact on a students ability to learn, with different designs having different outcomes. For example, muted natural textures and colours can help provide an ideal environment for quiet study, whereas bright colours can help stimulate productivity.
Research has shown a direct link between colours and emotions, which can promote either positive or negative feelings. This can help when choosing the purpose of the room, whether relaxation, study, collaboration, or testing.
Impact of furniture in the classroom
School furniture plays a crucial role in the effectiveness of student’s learning. Comfort, flexibility, colour, and ergonomics all affect our ability to work at home or the office, the same could be said for students at schools and universities.
Universities are constantly finding innovative ways to furnish a classroom that incorporates comfort, functionality, flexibility, as well as style and colour that is adaptable for a variety of situations.
Uncomfortable furniture can not only be mentally distracting but also physically taxing, with poor posture as a major contributing factor, especially for students who may spend countless hours studying at university.
Heavy non-flexible furniture means that students are limited to the spaces they are able to collaborate in, this can be disadvantageous for spontaneous group discussions.
Flexible classrooms are more dynamic and engaging, it allows students to take ownership and move furniture including tables and chairs, where they please and adapting to different learning styles.
As mentioned in Part 1, colour and design in a classroom environment has a significant impact on a students ability to learn, with different colours invoking different feelings and emotions. This could result in an increase or decrease in productivity.
Impact of plants in the classroom
Research has shown the impact of plants in an office space can reduce stress, reduce noise levels, improve air quality, and increase productivity by as much as 15% in the workplace. What was once an office trend has now become an integral part of office architectural design, our homes, and the classroom one.
Apart from its natural aesthetic, there are also a number of health benefits such as improving class performance by helping students focus, combat stress and anxiety by promoting positive feelings, plants can even reduce sickness and absenteeism.
Creating a breakout zone or individual support area with a few plants within the classroom allows children to step away from the rest of the class. It provides a calm and natural environment to alleviate stress, improve wellness, and encourage student-teacher engagement.
Australian Furniture Companies Who Are Classroom Focused
DVA – Western Australia
DVA is an Australian manufacturer that has been manufacturing and designing furniture for libraries, reception areas, staff rooms, classrooms and offices all across Australia for over 10 years. DVA is also WA’s CUA government-approved supplier.
KE-ZU – New South Wales
With a design brief consisting of comfort, adaptability, ergonomical, and versatile, KE-ZU went to work with Zenith Interiors to upgrade the lecture halls and study areas at Monash University with new innovative seating and desks for over 2000 students.
With the work industry moving away from your standard cookie cutter approach and into a new technological stream that promotes collaboration, creativity, and productivity, it is evident that changes need to be made at ground level.
And this begins with improving the design and layout of a classroom to ensure your child receives the best possible learning environment for them to succeed in.