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How to Design a Classroom that Encourages Active Learning

Posted on Aug 4, 2016, by Mike Brown

A big problem is that traditional learning experiences are not aligned with how the brain works” – Andrew Kim, Education Researcher, Steelcase.

Active learning gets students involved in their classes – taking part in activities such as group projects or class discussions, rather than passively listening to a teacher speak. It has been shown to improve student outcomes: one study used test results to show that students who used active learning methods learned twice as much as those learning in a traditional, lecture-based class.

So today I’m looking at how your classroom design and set-up can encourage active learning, to improve student engagement and outcomes.

Free Tip Sheet: 6 Ways to Maximize Student & Teacher Engagement

Facilitate Flexibility

Active learning brings variety into the classroom. Different types of learning will require different teaching set-ups: a class presentation will need a different set-up to a project with students working in pairs. Therefore, it’s vital that you have a classroom that is designed and equipped to facilitate flexibility.


Desks and chairs arranged in a traditional, row-by-column layout are much less suited to engaged, collaborative working than desks that are grouped together. However, desks that are grouped together are less suited to taking detailed notes on an in-depth lecture by the teacher.

Therefore, you need furniture that enables maximum flexibility in the classroom: furniture that’s easy to rearrange to meet the needs of the type of work your students will be doing. It’s becoming increasingly popular for classrooms to be equipped with desks on wheels (like the Steelcase Akira table). These make it easy to move around, transitioning from group work to individual study with much less effort required compared with normal, static desks.


Technology is playing an increasingly important role in classroom learning. As such, equipping classrooms with a technological set-up that facilitates flexibility is a must.

Flexible power distribution, such as having power sockets embedded in the floor, will make it possible for every student to use technology during class, for individual study or working on group projects.

Some companies have developed power distribution products that rely on carpet, using carpet tiles to conceal thin power tracks that distribute power throughout the space.

Manage Increased Noise Levels

With active learning, you are likely to have increased activity levels in the classroom, and generate more noise – from students moving around or discussing their work, to furniture being moved to change the classroom set-up.

The link between classroom noise levels and academic performance is well-documented, so in order to compensate for increased noise levels that comes with collaborative, active learning, you will need to design a classroom with lower levels of ambient background noise.

Classroom flooring has a significant impact on background noise: cushion-backed carpet absorbs 50% more noise than hard-back carpet, which in turn absorbs 3x more noise than hard flooring. Other noise-reduction methods include installing acoustical ceiling tiles (reducing sound reverberation in the classroom) and installing sound-control doors to reduce the levels of noise from outside the classroom that can be heard inside.


Topics: Design, Health & Wellness

Mike Brown

Written by Mike Brown