Ask the Expert (Learning Spaces)

Can Classroom Design Impact Learning?

It seems logical that the spaces in which students learn can have a strong influence on their scholastic performance. However, until recently the evidence was fragmented. Thanks in part to a research paper published in Building and Environment, the impact that the design of a learning space has on pupils is now better understood. In the journal (a periodical that publishes research papers related to human interaction with the built environment), the authors report that classroom design can have as much as a 25 percent impact on a student’s progress over a school year. The research found that the difference between the best- and the worst-designed classrooms could result in a full year’s worth of academic progress.

The study was conducted in 34 classrooms with over 750 student participants. Many environmental factors were studied. Beyond the expected impacts related to acoustics and air temperature/quality, some of the more intriguing elements included: color within the room, complexity (appropriate level of stimulation without being cluttered), flexibility (ability to support varied learning activities), natural and electrical light quality, and how characteristics of the room allowed students a sense of ownership.

While there is no perfect classroom design, the study suggests that we must think holistically when planning learning spaces. Consider designing classrooms which include furniture that is mobile and can easily be reconfigured. Choosing chairs that enable students to interact with each other and with the instructor can improve the opportunity for connections and building social skills. Providing a variety of furniture types can support personal choice and ownership.

In summary, designs which support the institution’s teaching methods, as well as pupils’ comfort, will result in environments that set a student up for success.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Lisa Schmidt, LEED-AP, is the Learning Marketing manager at National Office Furniture. She can be reached at

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