Barrett, P., Davies, F., Zhang, Y., & Barrett, L. (2015). The impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning: Final results of a holistic, multi-level analysis. Building and Environment, 89, 118-133.
Scribe: Amy Rakich Discussants: Goyo Ortiz & Levi Schneck
Please see the discussion slides below.
The Impact of Classroom Design on Pupil’s Learning:
Final Results of a holistic, Multi-level Analysis.
This study began in 2013 and was based in the UK. It includes the assessment of 153 classrooms in 27 primary schools. It was the first study in a school setting to validate the impact of classroom design on the academic progress of 3766 pupils through a holistic evidence and design (HEAD) method. As different from most studies of physical space that use observational qualitative data, it uses quantitative data derived by measuring the characteristics and features of the classroom such as size of window, volume of space, air quality, sound, light intensity, color, complexity, etc. Results from this study show that the physical learning environment has an impact on learning progress. It also shows that it is possible to isolate the effect of physical space on human performance and well-being, and that the effect it has is substantial.
Diverging from the traditional approach which investigates a singular feature or characteristic of space at a time, the authors assess the holistic impact of space on users based on the notion that users experience the built environment via multi-sensory inputs which are then resolved in the users’ brains. These mental mechanisms can provide a basis for understanding the combined effects of sensory inputs on users of buildings at a level of resolution where emergent properties may be evident. The broad structuring of the brain’s functioning can then be used to drive the selection and organization of physical environmental features when designing.
Three design principles that drove the selection of features / factors measured in this study were:
- Naturalness – environmental parameters that are required for physical comfort: light, sound, temperature, air quality and links to nature
- Individualism – how well the environment meets the needs of a group of children as defined by ownership, flexibility and connections
- Stimulation – how exciting and vibrant the environment is as defined by complexity and color
The results of this study provided clear evidence that each of these principles appears to have a role in understanding the holistic human experience of built spaces. In this case of primary schools, the impact on learning was:
- Naturalness – 50%
- Individualism – 25%
- Stimulation – 25%
While this study provides a foundation for future studies to occur, it only focuses on one building typology (primary schools), from one perspective (the pupil), in one country (the UK). Additional research and factors outside of this study (i.e., climate, geographical area, cultural differences, pedagogy practiced), should be considered to obtain a more comprehensive analysis of the impact of classroom design on academic progress.
Consensus reached during our discussion of this paper includes:
- MEP-related factors play a very important role in the user’s experience of the built environment. In this study, such factors were responsible for 50% of the effects of the built environment on students learning progress.
- It is important to find ways to educate clients on the impact and the significant role that a holistic design approach has on the quality of the users’ experience.
- Effective communication to all parties involved in a school project delivery process is crucial. Directors, superintendents, facilities managers, parents, teachers, designers and the community need to understand the important role the built environment has on student performance and progress.
Design Practice Implications:
- Simply placing large windows in classrooms is NOT sufficient to generate benefits to student learning. Windows need to be appropriately oriented and located to reduce the risk of glare for students to benefit from optimum window size.
- Younger students learn better in classrooms with L-shapes while older students learn better in classrooms that are squarer. This has to do with nature of lesson delivery. Younger kids need to explore since their learning is typically play-based while older kids need to be more focused.
- When designing classrooms, opportunities should be created such that teachers and students can make their classrooms distinctive and unique. This helps create a sense of ownership which contributes to student learning.
- However, distinction must be achieved in a way that will not make the classroom excessively complex, distracting and over-stimulating. This is prevalent in most elementary schools.
- Under-stimulating classroom designs that are sterile affect learning negatively, and so does over-stimulating classroom designs with too much color, complexity and disorganized displays on the walls.
- A happy medium, such as an accent color wall in an otherwise plain classroom is found to be most effective for student learning.
- Added color elements that are well-organized can also be beneficial.
- Students also benefit from window sill heights that are low enough for them to experience natural exterior views.
- Students perform better in the room that where the temperature was easy to control.
- Both the quality and quantity of electrical lighting matter for student learning.
- Use of soft acoustic surfaces like carpet show a positive correlation with student learning.
Main Classroom characteristics that support the improvement of pupils’ learning: