Is classroom design important for effective learning?

In the education space, one often hears of curriculum, teacher training, pedagogy, learning outcomes, assessments, test design, etc. More recently, there is a lot of talk about EdTech, adaptive learning, online learning — both asynchronous and synchronous learning. However, very little attention is paid to classroom design. Is classroom design important? Can it impact learning outcomes?

As with education as a whole, very little has changed as far as classroom design is concerned. This is how you will see most classrooms structured.

Students seated in rows facing the ‘know all’ seer. While some change may have happened at the junior levels, this is very much the case (or so I presume) in most middle and high schools. Clearly, this design is not well suited for learning for the following reasons:

  1. It lends a sense of superiority to the teacher, rather than the teacher being a part of the team. This tends to breed a sense of ‘we’ (students) vs ‘them’ (teachers).
  2. Children are made to feel that they are there to receive knowledge, rather than to discover knowledge on their own.
  3. This design just does not lend itself to adequate discussions among the students.
  4. Above all, this is so unnatural. Rarely ever do we ever line up in this fashion in real life.

Now, check these out.

‘Classrooms’ at Shibumi, an alternative school in Bengaluru

These are ‘classrooms’ at Shibumi, an alternative school in Bengaluru. As you should be able to figure out, these classrooms have no fixed seating arrangement. The teacher and the students alike just float all over the class and perch wherever they feel like. By doing so, they work together as one team, thereby avoiding the divide that exists in the conventional classroom design. Besides, these classrooms are open from at least 2 sides and so allow cool air to flow in. Needless to say, that keeps a person fresh (and prevents the boy / girl from dozing, which otherwise happens so often in classrooms). These ‘rooms’ provide such an organic and a natural look, as against the box type of rooms that one is more likely to find in schools.

It is anybody’s guess then that this environment is much more conducive for learning. In my previous post, I mentioned how a thickly populated forest is so necessary for learning, with the same logic.

There are tons of studies that have already been done on the impact that classroom design has on learning outcomes. The reader can of course google for them. However, the objective of writing this blog was simply to contrast the 2 classrooms designs and then understand, based on common sense, what provides for a better learning environment.

PS: This blog was originally posted on November 26, 2016

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