When we think of learning environments, we often think of how the desks and tables in a classroom are configured. That’s an important consideration, but it’s not the only factor affecting student success. How the design of these items makes users feel emotionally also is critical—and this can have a big impact on achievement.
How students respond emotionally to the sensory input they get from desks, chairs, and other elements in their environment is just as important as their physical comfort. Factors such as color and texture can affect a student’s mood significantly, and decades of research suggests this can influence a student’s ability to focus or succeed—for better or for worse.
Researchers Kristi S. Gaines and Zane D. Curry from Texas Tech University summarized a number of studies about the effects of color on students’ emotions and academic performance in a 2011 paper titled “The Effects of Color on Learning and Behavior.”
“Color is a powerful design element that produces profound psychological and physiological reactions,” they wrote. “Studies have shown a relationship between color preferences, emotions, and academic performance in students.”
However, because color affects different types of students in different ways, it’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions about which colors are best for which types of learning environments, Gaines and Curry wrote.
Similarly, the fabrics and materials that a piece of furniture is made from also play an important role in whether students are comfortable both physically and emotionally—and therefore whether they are learning to their full potential.
“There are a lot of children coming to school who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders or special needs, and many of them can be heavily affected by the different textures that are in classrooms,” says elementary school teacher Erin Klein, who studied interior design in college before entering the classroom.
Because children react to different colors or textures in different ways, it’s important for schools to offer furniture with a wide variety of colors and textures.
“Just like when we personalize instruction—the more ways we teach, the more students we reach—the more furniture options we have, the more accommodating we will be to our students,” Klein notes.