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Outside the Curriculum: The Effect Environment Has on Learning

Students complete homework in the central collaboration space or collaborate around tables and whiteboards.
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Photo: Williams Bay Elementary

Do you think that a room can affect a student’s grades? Let me put it this way, do you think that the quality of the learning environment effects learning? If you answered “yes,” you are not alone. In fact, a body of research supports the notion that quality learning environments have a direct tie to effective learning as well as teaching. Think about the spaces that you like to spend time in–they are comfortable, make you feel at ease, and you enjoy being there. For me, these types of spaces make me less of a “clock watcher” because I’m content in them. You can probably also think of spaces you’ve been in, perhaps even schools, that have the reverse effect because they are dark, stifling, and out of date. I am going to share some information about how modern learning environments can have a positive impact on student achievement. 

When I asked you to think about those spaces that you like to spend time in, I wonder if one of those spaces was a classroom. I would wager to say that’s not the case, although if you are a student or a teacher, that’s where you spend a great deal of time. In the article “Do School Facilities Affect Academic Outcomes,” author Mike Schneider answers this question with a resounding yes--modern learning environments can have a substantial impact on student outcomes. Another article by the Penn State Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis underscores Schneider point. Of course, factors outside of the learning environment, such as family situations, teachers, and student well-being, also effect student outcomes. However, these articles clearly indicate that the following environmental factors effect learning, there are more factors not listed: 

Building Condition: The first space factor that can play into a student’s success is the condition of the building itself. Poorly maintained facilities, often found in low income areas, have a detrimental effect on student morale and achievement. mentioned in Schneider’s paper above also point to teachers being less engaged when they work in poorly maintained facilities. 

Acoustics: Another consideration for effective learning is acoustics and noise. “Research linking acoustics to learning is consistent and convincing: good acoustics are fundamental to good academic performance.” Says Schneider.  Excessive noise can affect student and teacher comfort and ability to listen. Research has shown that quality acoustics do have a positive impact on learning and teaching.

Lighting: One of the most important environmental elements that affects learning is daylighting. Research shows that daylight can boost the morale of teachers and students. One study found that students with the most exposure to natural daylight progressed 20% faster in math and 26% faster in reading than students who were taught in environments with the least amount of natural light. 

I want to challenge you to think about the learning environments you, your students or your children are currently in. How are the building conditions? Does it feel like a place of the past that no one has cared for or had the funding to update?  What about acoustics and noise? Does the building echo or are there outdated systems, like whistling water heaters or grainy sounding intercoms, that make it difficult to hear people? Is there good quality air that is safely breathable and access to natural light? The learning experience does not happen in a vacuum. The more attention we can pay to these environmental factors, the better we set students and teachers up for educational success.

(2015), The Importance of School Facilities in Improving Student Outcomes, Penn State, Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis, College of Education.  Retrieved from: 

Schneider, M. (2002). Do School Facilities Affect Academic Outcomes? Washington DC: National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities

Schneider, M. Public School Facilities and Teaching: Washington, DC and Chicag 

Heschong Mahone Group, (1999) Daylighting in Schools


Senior Project Manager : Principal

Bob Vajgrt is a Senior Project Manager and Principal in the Learning Environment. Bob's proven success, effective management skills and his sense of camaraderie makes working with him fun and easy.

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