Despite there still being a great deal of debate about empirical research related to modern learning environments, there does seem to be some common trends coming through*.
Natural light is the way to go and you can see why. A study by Mirjam Muench found that subjects became drowsier in artificial light rather than natural. However controlling that light is critical. Buildings should ideally be facing, “North, which has the most uniform daylight throughout the day and year and seldom experiences problems with glare discomfort” (Clever Classrooms: Barrett, Zhang & Davies, 2015). If building northward isn’t an option then light diffusing techniques should be used, particularly in south facing buildings. Good blinds, carefully designed wooden slats or even glazed windows can all help to diffuse light when you have too much of it. If natural light is limited or absent from your space, make sure you have abundant artificial light with modification options (e.g. dimmer switches, lamps and overhead, LED and warm-tone bulbs).
Perhaps the most irritable and thus the most often complained about issue with modern offices and learning spaces is sound. When it comes with overall dissatisfaction with open plan workplaces it ranks as numero uno. The same could be said for many classrooms, where educators as well as students may complain about the cacophony created by collaboration. Some might argue that noise is productivity, indeed I believe in many cases it is, but excess noise, is well, annoying. So I can ‘hear‘ why its rated so highly.
When we embarked on classroom renovations in our school, we faced sonic issues. One of the complications we ran into was not having a drop ceilings. The school’s design is such that the ceiling is open so that students can understand the school’s working parts (water pipes, air vents, etc) and while it looks great, and acts as a provocation, all those hard surface tend to reverberate sound.
We looked into a variety of options but one that suited our needs as both a display space and to sound dampener was a wall carpeting product call Vertiface by Autex Industries. It reduce noise vibrations by as much as 40 percent. But what other options do we have to reduce the racket? Learning spaces guru Stephen Heppell has championed the shoeless classroom as a quieter space, which has always intrigued me (more to come on that later). When building or renovating a structure think about adding sound dampening materials like fiberglass, neoprene rubber, viscoelastic foam, or MLV (Mass-Loaded Vinyl).
Air quality matters.
Good fresh air for us to breathe is critical to keeping us healthy and alert. Good ventilation is an important part of good building design. Ventilation can be natural (windows, doors and air vents) or engineered system which pump hundreds of thousands of litres of filtered air through a building. As ‘Green Building Advisor’ points out good ventilation systems:
- Provide enough fresh air to keep the occupants healthy;
- Remove odors;
- Dilute indoor pollutants; and
- Lower the indoor relative humidity.
Why wouldn’t you want that for your students?
*NB: Since the study of learning environments is still a young field we have also pulled data from studies of modern office and building design.