For anyone who's sat through a two-hour lecture at 9 am, it will come as no surprise to hear that dingy and stuffy classrooms are terrible environments to learn in. A new study has found that cool, airy, and bright classrooms with good acoustics have the power to significantly boost the quality of learning and even have an impact on test scores.
Researchers at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands took a look at 21 different pieces of high-quality research from across the world that explored how a teaching environment can affect the quality of teaching and learning at colleges and universities.
The findings, reported in the journal Indoor Air, suggest that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to making a perfect classroom environment and notes conditions in which students perform at their best are dependent on the task at hand. For example, a lengthy philosophy lecture is likely to require a different environment than a hands-on chemistry lesson. As such, they recommend classrooms providing multiple conditions and options to suit the variety of activities that might take place there.
“Several studies showed that there is not a single optimal indoor environmental condition for students in higher education classrooms. Conditions in which students perform at their best are task-dependent. Therefore, classrooms should provide multiple indoor environmental conditions, in order to facilitate educational processes optimally,” lead author Henk W. Brink said in a statement.
However, the literature review did find some common themes of what makes a good learning environment, namely a relatively cool, bright, and quiet environment that has ambient air with low carbon dioxide concentrations. Acoustics was also found to be an important factor, with one study finding that unwanted noises in the classroom may decrease students' short-term academic performance by as much as 34 percent.
As the study notes, these types of light and airy classrooms are more likely to foster alertness and comfort, both of which were shown to increase the quality of learning.
“Sufficient evidence confirms that a poor IAQ [indoor air quality], thermal, acoustic, and lighting conditions negatively influence the quality of learning due to discomfort and impaired mental and physical health of students,” the authors wrote in the study. “Moreover, optimal conditions contribute positively to the quality of learning by creating an environment in which students feel more alert and pay more attention to the information presented in the lecture.”
The researchers argue that students who are taught in these kinds of optimal classrooms also tend to experience an improved short-term academic performance, scoring higher on attention or concentration tests, and performing better in academic tests. However, they were not able to deduce whether it affected students' long‐term academic performance due to a lack of evidence. The study was also unable to confirm or reject the claim that classrooms can influence the quality of teaching due to insufficient evidence.
In light of their findings, the researchers hope to inspire those involved in renovation or new construction of school buildings in a bid to make better classrooms and more productive environments.