New U.K. study says classroom building design has significant impact on learning rates

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23 2013 9:23 a.m. MST

Researchers found that light quality and classroom color both contributed significantly to student learning rates.

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A new study from the U.K.'s University of Salford demonstrates that school and classroom design had a 25 percent impact on the learning rates of 751 children studied between 2011-12. The students were from 34 classrooms in seven different schools.

Researchers found that light quality (both natural and electric) and classroom "wall and floor" color (bright, cool colors for younger children, warmer tones for older students) both contributed significantly to student learning rates. Four other factors — choice, flexibility, connection and complexity — also played a role, the study said. These factors concern how well the built space accommodates a variety of people and activities while minimizing crowding and confusion.

Fastcodesign.com reports that the paper's lead author, professor Peter Barrett, provided a written statement on the results, saying, "It has long been known that various aspects of the built environment impact on people in buildings, but this is the first time a holistic assessment has been made that successfully links the overall impact directly to learning rates in schools. The impact identified is in fact greater than we imagined and the Salford team is looking forward to building on these clear results."

It is not known if the pun was intended.

Wired.com points out that the study comes at an important moment in a national conversation on the value of school architecture: "The results are particularly interesting as the coalition government has introduced a controversial range of standardized templates for new school buildings, with the expressed purpose of reducing the costs of hiring architects.

"Unsurprisingly," Wired.com added, "the design proposals have been met with disapproval from architects. The Royal Institute of British Architects issued a statement criticizing the templates for introducing a 'one-size-fits-all' format that ignored the needs for flexibility in modern teaching environments."

The University of Salford provides more information on current and planned research on school and classroom design via its website: "The pilot study was commissioned by THiNK, a research and development team at Nightingale Associates. The practice will use these initial findings to inform their designs and work with schools undertaking refurbishment or (building) new projects to maximise their investment in the learning environment.

"Through these promising findings, the study will continue for another 18 months and cover another 20 schools in different areas of the U.K. This study is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council."

Gretchen Krebs has taught general and special education in New York and Utah. She is passionate about finding innovative approaches to meet the needs of all students. Contact her at gkrebs@deseretnews.com

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