Well-designed learning spaces can boost student academic performance: University of Salford, Manchester

The University of Salford in Manchester has gained a reputation for looking at the physical aspects of the learning space and their impact on the quality of learning. In 2013 the project on the sensory impacts on learning found (here):

“almost three quarters of the variation in pupil performance could be attributed to design and environmental factors.  All things being equal, the academic performance of a child in the best environment could be expected to be 25% better than an equivalent child in the “poorest” classroom environment.” 

IMG_1732And next? Over three years the HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design) looked at 153 classrooms in 27 diverse schools in three local authorities in England – Blackpool, London Borough of Ealing and Hampshire. The team looked at sensory factors and multilevel statistical modelling to isolate the effects of classroom design.

One big idea

This year the Clever Classrooms report states:

“Well-designed classrooms can boost learning progress in primary school pupils by up to 16% in a single year.” 

Three characteristics

In the research three physical characteristics were assessed:

  • The role of naturalness – light temperature and air quality
  • The opportunity of individualisation – ownership and flexibility
  • Appropriate levels of stimulation – complexity and colour

Whole school factors, such as size, navigation, specialist facilities and play facilities did notappear to be as significant as the design of the individual learning space.

The findings that led to 16% improvement in students learning progress was attributed to a range of factors across these characteristics. Naturalness accounted for almost 50%, with around 25% each for stimulation and individualisation.

Other considerations, size of the school, provision of shared specialist rooms and scale and quality of external spaces had less impact. The most important factor was that the actual learning space, where the students spend most of their day. This needs to be well-designed.

Seven key elements

The research concluded that learning spaces must be well-designed and narrowed the range of inputs to seven design parameters and with the degree of impact:

  1. Light (21%)
  2. Air quality (16%)
  3. Temperature (12%)
  4. Flexibility (11%)
  5. Ownership (17%)
  6. Colour (12%)
  7. Complexity (11%)

The ZoneA few other factors mentioned in the report: The physical design at the school level was less important. Also, it is easy to over-stimulate with vibrant colours and overly busy displays, however a white box is not the answer, either. In the learning spaces small and cost effective changes can make a real difference, including changing the layout, choice of wall displays and colours of the wall.

It is interesting to note that ‘sound’ was identified as a secondary factor, when it is often raised as a key issue by many. The addition of acoustic treatment, soft furnishings and carpets and rubber feet in furniture was noted in the report.

I appreciate the response from Colin Campbell at Ecophon on the matter of sound and acoustics:

“Good speech communication is vital and increasingly dynamic; no longer the teacher just lecturing (only one person speaking), there is a different acoustic dynamic now with increasing collaboration including whole class interaction and group work. In the traditional classroom and increasingly many other additional spaces are now being used for discussions and engagement in learning. These activities can create an increased burden on the teachers as they must collaborate more and manage / coach the learning in a different way. The quieter and calmer a learning space, the easier it is for teachers to remain proactive in their approach thus empowering more student engagement, positive behaviour and increased possibilities and experimentation for learning. So, the food for thought is to consider the need to prioritise good acoustics for speech communication as the need has never been greater.”

What can we do?

Light
  • Keep windows free of displays
  • Use high quality projectors and screens that are not impacted by light
  • Use plants and planters to reduce too much incoming light
Air quality
  • OPEN WINDOWS!
  • Avoid obstructions to airflow
  • Install CO2 metres
Temperature
  • Be attentive to the temperature of the room
  • Use plants and planters to diffuse windows facing the heat
Flexibility
  • Create well-designed learning zones
  • Consider age appropriate size and shape of zones
  • Provide accessible walls for display
Ownership
  • Consider student ownership of work displays
  • Create a sense of familiarity
  • Allow personalisation to aspects of the learning space
  • Good quality furniture
Complexity
  • Create displays that give a liveliness, without being chaotic
  • 20-50% of the wall space kept clear
  • Avoid displays on windows
Colour
  • Assess the colour elements that remain unchanged
  • Determine how much bright colour can be introduced in other aspects
  • Aim to increase stimulation against a muted background

While this research was focused on primary classrooms, it would be interesting to see how it made a difference to the learning spaces in secondary/high schools.

@anneknock

5 Replies to “Well-designed learning spaces can boost student academic performance: University of Salford, Manchester”

  1. Interesting study and I would add some food for thought about the sound environment which must also be prioritised along, with lighting, ventilation and thermal comfort for indoor learning environments. Good speech communication is vital and increasingly dynamic; no longer the teacher just lecturing (only one person speaking), there is a different acoustic dynamic now with increasing collaboration including whole class interaction and group work etc. in the traditional classroom and increasingly many other additional spaces are now being used for discussions and engagement in learning. These activities can create an increased burden on the teachers as they must collaborate more and manage / coach the learning in a different way. The quieter and calmer a learning space, the easier it is for teachers to remain proactive in their approach thus empowering more student engagement, positive behaviour and increased possibilities and experimentation for learning. So, the food for thought is to consider the need to prioritise good acoustics for speech communication as the need has never been greater.

  2. Thanks Anne for this great summary of the research at Salford. Had the privilege of being on the Sounding panel for it. I think that the holistic nature is important as it underlies the complexity of the subject – could be dangerous if others start to quote indiscriminately percentages out of context. Given your experience in secondary ed, how do you see the translation of these factors to secondary / high schools?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s