Neuroscience explains how factors such as light and seating arrangement can affect students’ cognitive performance.
If you’ve ever tried to clear your mind by taking a walk outdoors or relaxing by a window watching clouds pass by, you’ve perceived something scientists have been researching for years: our natural and built environments seem to affect our feelings and thoughts.
Several studies have recently focused on how environmental factors can affect children’s ability to learn.
These studies demonstrate that a well-designed learning environment complements pedagogy and curriculum design based on four environmental factors that have been observed through scientific evidence that can improve or hinder learning.
What aspects of classrooms distract from learning?
The many factors that make up classroom design have been studied to determine their influence on learning. The factors that can most interfere with learning are noise, temperature and (surprisingly) seating arrangements.
The effects of noise interference during learning – especially noise that includes voices (language)- are quite profound in young children. The most likely reason is that the brain systems that allow us to filter distractions and focus on the task at hand (executive functioning) are still developing in children.
Children are therefore particularly vulnerable to noise acoustics. Since noise interference makes it difficult for children to stay focused on the task, it is logical to infer that it has widespread effects on learning development.
At Mirplay School we have designed a whole range of acoustic panels and dividers that greatly help to attenuate reverberation and optimize the acoustics of the different learning spaces. They are easy to install and provide a cost effective solution for centres.
If the temperature of a classroom or home study environment is not comfortable, it can be a source of distraction or discomfort that interferes with learning. A review of studies on the relationship between temperature and learning outcomes revealed ideal temperature ranges for optimal learning ranging from 20 to 23.5 degrees C, with about 50 percent humidity.
Another source of distraction may be the arrangement of desks and chairs in the classroom. In this case, the researchers tested three different seating arrangements and showed that elementary school students were less attentive to the task when desks were arranged in rows and better when they were arranged in groups or in a semicircle.
Another study, however, suggests that the best arrangement should be determined according to the task to be performed: More interactive tasks benefit more from interactive arrangements (semicircle and clusters), and independent tasks from independent arrangements (rows).
Taking into account the different dynamics currently developed in classrooms, at Mirplay we have designed school furniture with the mission of making spaces more flexible: tables that fit together, stands, easy to move and store table chairs that favour more collaborative environments.
In summary, there are many aspects of the environment that can influence the 10 to 15 percent of the variation in academic results. It is up to us to ensure these outcomes are positive.