How does good design help to improve learning?

Published - Saturday, September 16, 2017

It’s amazing how quickly we accept our environments and stop noticing the problems. Poor, cluttered environments aren't nice to work or learn in and sometimes it only takes a small amount of time and effort to make things so much better.

Those were the days…

We all remember the first day we started school, whether it was our first eye-widening experience in our tender early years at primary school, or the tummy-churning moment we walked towards the seemingly gigantic building looming against the skyline, with wide doors that seemed to beckon us into its lair – secondary school.


school exterior - St Peter's School


First impressions really do count

However, once inside, we would all have formulated completely different opinions based on our first few seconds…and it all boiled down to how our brains perceived our surroundings.

Some of us would have seen old, frayed, perhaps sun-bleached posters. Others of us would have noticed that someone had really tried to be creative, adorning the walls with hand-made, laminated cards and photos.

On the other hand, some of us would have witnessed amazing artwork with engaging, punchy text.

This initial impression would, unwittingly, have triggered our inner perceptions of education, perhaps deep-rooted and ingrained within us, for the rest of our lives.

Powerful stuff…

So, let’s explore that further…


space themed wall graphics 

Create a ‘WOW’

Well-designed learning spaces are a pleasure to be in. They foster ‘on-task’ engagement, as students respect their environments more - it looks cared for and ‘fun’. Students really do feel that their teachers have made a real, concerted effort to show that they care about them as individuals, that they care about whether they are happy in their learning environment. Spaces like these foster creative thinking; students feel more at ease to discuss their views and answer questions. Holistically, it allows for a much calmer, inclusive, and more positive working environment.


Fabulous – so, how do we create this?

Let’s go back to walking through the entrance. Do this yourself. What do you see? Think about what your students, parents, and other visitors actually ‘see’?

Do you like what you see?

What is your environment saying to you?

Take time to look at it with fresh eyes. You could ask someone you trust to give you an honest and frank opinion. Also, you could carry out a student-voice survey, and ask parents and visitors to give their opinions, too, anonymously if they prefer.

It’s amazing how quickly we accept our environments and stop noticing the problems…then someone comments on the peeling paintwork, or the tattered and torn wall display…

Being in education, you know that progress is vital. So, shouldn’t this flow into the infrastructure of your learning environments? Your school should be shouting out to people walking through your door, whoever they are, that you are on top of all the latest, innovative methods to make your students’ learning environments outstanding - and that you care.

So, down to the mechanics…

…colour is really important. Think carefully about choosing a scheme that is cheerful and inviting, but not too overpowering. Keep it easy on the eye. It needs to say: ‘professional, we know what we are doing here, we care, we want our students to be happy learners’.


before and after

Above: before and after at one Primary school


Yes, less can be more

The key is choose carefully – a small selection of well-placed wall displays will have more impact than lots of scattered details. This is because the latter can’t be digested quickly by people walking down, for instance, a corridor. However, there is a higher probability that an effective smaller display of ‘messages’ you really want to say will be remembered.

Also, too much on the walls can be counter-productive, and actually distract students, creating a negative learning space. This can be the case, in particular, in special needs units in schools, where too much visual stimulus can be frustrating for some students, and can cause anxiety.



Evaluate each space

Thinking about what you want to achieve in a space can help inform the right scheme and aesthetic. Do you want the design of the entrance area to flow into other areas? Do you want to create a scheme of complementary colours for different areas within the building? Is there one particular message you want to display consistently throughout?

Balance permanent features with areas that can be changed easily over time. This can be a cost-effective approach, as well as practical.

So, consider a strategy that forces you to change things to prevent displays from becoming stagnant.

As mentioned earlier, we adapt to our surroundings quickly and stop noticing the details, resulting in a lack of focus, and meanings, or key messages, being lost. Things then, we don’t want, or need, in a learning environment striving to improve students’ academic knowledge and real-world skills.

Good design helps to improve learning – ask the learners!



What would you do?

Call us on 0845 208 6788 to arrange a free consultation at your school.