Monthly Archives: February 2013

How do colors, lighting, and other environmental factors affect learning?

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The other day when I was teaching, a contractor came in to my room and asked me what color I wanted the new classroom on the first floor to be painted. The question made me pause. Having my MFA in graphic design, I am well aware that color has a strong affect on people. That is why marketing firms do hours of research to find out what colors will best sell a product. Also, I am aware that different colors have alternative connotations depending upon the culture to which one is presenting the color. For example, here in the Western Hemisphere, white connotes birth and marriage, but in some Asian countries it represents death. Therefore, one has to be careful about whom he/she is designing for. So, without having had the opportunity to do any research, I played it safe and just told him to paint it the same off white that it was prior to construction. I can always change it at a later time if I determine that there is a learning benefit to using alternative colors.

After some brief online research I noticed some things right away. In one study from 1995, eleven 6-year-old boys were taught in two separate classrooms. As they learned, researchers watched to see if they were on task, and the entire time of the lesson the students’ blood pressures were monitored periodically. The first room was a traditional white classroom, probably much like the color I ordered, with soft florescent lighting. The second room was painted with “light blue walls and full-spectrum Duro-test Vita-lite lights” (Grangaard, 1995). The study found that the students were on-task 22 percent more of the time in the modified room, and their average blood pressure was 9 percent lower.

Fielding (2007) points to the traditional colors and lighting of a classroom and says that they were effective during the industrial revolution era because most students were going to grow up to work in factories. However, that is no longer the case. Schools should be designed for “…learner-centered, rather than teacher or curriculum-centered, modes of delivery. The paradigm is no longer about delivering information, but in nurturing a broad array of learning styles and experiences” (pg.7). In his opinion the buildings have to catch up with the times using more learner-centered colors and lighting schemes.
Jensen (2005) agrees that color and lighting, as well as other environmental conditions affect learning. He cites a study that shows that, “…more than 50 percent of children developed academic or health deficiencies as a result of insufficient light at school” (pg. 85). In fact, he favors natural lighting over any kind of artificial light saying, “…students with the most sunlight in their classrooms progressed 20 percent faster on math tests and 26 percent faster on reading tests compared with students exposed to the least lighting” (pg. 85). Temperature also appears to be a factor for learning. Even the perception of a cooler room helps cognition. Jensen suggests painting the room in “…colors that create cooling effects, such as blues and greens” (pg. 85). However, this is not his only suggestion about how color matters for students. He quotes Harry Wohlfarth saying that one can use colors to “bring about the most consistent positive effects on behavior and cognition…” (pg. 90) The colors include:
• Warm yellow on the front three walls
• Light blue on the rear wall
• Contrasting cool colors as accents
• Reds and yellows to stimulate students and light blue to “calm overactive students” (pg. 90)
• Warm golden gray for the carpets.

The Designer’s Research Manual says, “Color is a powerful nonverbal communication tool…Color can evoke emotions, elicit feelings—even hunger” (Visocky O’Grady & Visocky O’Grady, 2006, p. 62). Imagine painting your room reds and oranges and having a group of hungry students all the time. Conversely, “Cooler colors such as blue, green, and violet are connected with the sea, sky, calmness, tranquility, and unity”(pg. 62). Based on my research, I probably should have trusted my instincts and had the room painted light blue.

Fielding, R. (2007, August). Learning, lighting and color: Lighting design for schools and univeristies in the 21st century. . Designshare , 7.
Grangaard, E. M. (1995, April 15). Color and light effects on learning. Retrieved February 7, 2013, from Ebsco Host:
Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind: 2nd edition. Alexandria: ASCD.
Visocky O’Grady, J., & Visocky O’Grady, K. (2006). A designer’s research manual: Succeed in design by knowoing your clients and what they really need. Gloucester: Rockport Publishers, Inc. .

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Posted by on February 8, 2013 in Uncategorized