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How to Replicate the Best Learning Environments in Schools

Posted on Jan 23, 2017, by Mike Patrick

When you're planning a classroom renovation, it's easy to focus on cosmetic details and overlook the improvements that will have the biggest impact on student achievement. To help you create the best learning environments in your school, I'm reviewing the five environmental factors that are crucial for student success, along with tips for adopting these best practices in the classroom.

Featured image: Scholars Academy, Conway, South Carolina, USA. Designed by UWPD Architecture.

5 Key Components of the Best Learning Environments

1) Light

Featured image: Red Creek Elementary, Black River Falls, Wisconsin, USA. Designed by Bray Architects.

Lighting levels are particularly important in learning environments. As well as having a meaningful impact on health and wellness, studies repeatedly show that students exposed to greater levels of natural light in classrooms are more engaged with learning than their peers.

There are different ways to improve classroom lighting. If budget allows, installing daylighting systems will bring natural light into all areas of your school. Otherwise, smaller changes can improve classroom lighting levels: for example, not displaying student work on windows, opening blinds on overcast days, and ensuring broken lights are repaired promptly by your school's maintenance team.

While too little light is a concern, too much light can also create an uncomfortable learning environment. Look for ways to reduce glare throughout your classrooms. The WELL Building Standard states that glare can cause visual discomfort, fatigue and visual impairment, so minimizing the number of hard, reflective surfaces in learning environments will be instrumental to students.

2) Acoustics

Teachers have identified noise levels as one of the most important environmental factors that affect the quality of their teaching.

The relationship between noise levels and academic performance is well documented: According to a Sieben study of 600 classrooms in the state of Florida, speech intelligibility drops by 50% just four rows back from the front of the average classroom.

The best strategy to improve classroom acoustics is to lower ambient noise levels.

Many schools will already have acoustical ceiling tiles and sound-control doors installed, so to further improve noise levels, switch your hard flooring for modular carpet. Carpet tiles with built-in cushion backing absorb 50% more noise than hardback carpet, which in turn absorbs three times more noise than hard flooring.

3) Indoor Air Quality

Poor indoor air quality can lead to a range of health issues: allergies, nose and throat infections, headaches; as well as overall fatigue, which can have a detrimental effect on learning.

To improve indoor air quality, you must ensure that your HVAC system is serviced regularly, and the filters are frequently changed to prevent the build-up of contaminants.

Additionally, selecting carpet instead of hard flooring can measurably improve indoor air quality: Studies show that the breathing zone over a hard floor contains almost nine times more breathable particulates than the air over a carpeted floor. Carpet fibers trap dust and allergen particles, keeping them out of the breathing zone until the particles can be removed by vacuuming.

4) Technology

Technology plays an ever-increasing role in teaching and learning. The best learning environments will enable students to use technology throughout the classroom, in groups and for individual study.

It's becoming increasingly common for schools to invest in laptops and tablets for student use in class. To facilitate this, a good, secure Wi-Fi connection, and access to power, are essential. It's possible to run power tracks throughout the classroom underneath the carpet, using products like Thread from Steelcase. Students and teachers will be able to use technology anywhere in the room, providing greater flexibility and offering more collaborative learning opportunities.

5) Flexibility

Featured image: Scholars Academy, Conway, South Carolina, USA. Designed by UWPD Architecture.

It's been proven that active learning is much better at engaging students than lecture-based classes. Therefore, modern classrooms are increasingly moving away from the traditional classroom setup, to create a better learning environment for students.

To make it easy to change the layout of your classrooms to suit different learning activities, you want to invest in furniture that is mobile: desks on wheels, and chairs that are lightweight and easy for students to move around, to switch between individual study and group projects.

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Mike Patrick

Written by Mike Patrick