Why Classroom Design Matters: An Anthropologist's View

A word from our resident Anthropologist (video)

When it comes to education, there are many strategies teachers focus on: standardized tests, assigning homework, projects, essays, and more. However, there is more to student success than these traditional schooling practices. According to research on learning outcomes, it is not only what we teach that matters. The environments we teach in have major impacts on learning too. The layout, lighting, and furniture of a classroom can all affect how students learn and interact with each other.

While activities such as paying attention in class, doing your homework, and studying for exams all matter, there are other factors at play that go beyond the student’s control. Classroom design has been shown to improve students' learning outcomes and impact students’ learning experiences. It is important to design our classrooms in a way that facilitates the learning process. By creating safe and organized classrooms, students are provided all the necessary tools to learn as much as possible. 

Before taking a deeper dive into our current classrooms, let's take a look at where classrooms began. 

For many years, classroom design was primarily focused on functionality and efficiency. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was not common for educators to place value on creating a comfortable classroom. Education was done in school houses which commonly had one classroom, one teacher, and rows of desks for students. This layout focused on maximizing the number of students that could be accommodated with little attention paid to the impact on learning behavior. These classroom designs were cramped and little consideration was given to lighting, acoustics, or other elements that affect students' ability to learn. 

Today, research shows that we should be paying attention to the basic layout and design of our classrooms. For example, the University of Salford found that classroom design could impact students’ learning by 25%. The catch? This study showed that classroom design had the potential to both increase or decrease student learning. 

So what does this mean? For many of us, it is time to redesign our classrooms. 

One of the first things educators can do to improve classroom design is introduce more natural light into their classrooms. Several studies have demonstrated that daylight has the potential to improve peoples’ health as well as students learning outcomes. Sorbonne University in France examined how students may be affected by exposure to increased or decreased levels of daylight during the school day. This experiment found that students performed significantly better in class when exposed to more natural light. Leaving the blinds open in classrooms as well as creating opportunities for students to get outside during the school day can all help improve students' academic performance. 

Another key way to improve the design of your classroom is to use a flexible classroom design. When students have the opportunity to make small changes to their classroom environment, it allows them to explore under what circumstances they learn best. Some possibilities for this include allowing students to choose their seats and creating spaces in the classroom for collaboration. Each student will have different needs when it comes to getting the best education for them. By introducing a flexible classroom design, each student can customize their learning experience which can ultimately improve their academic success. 

Using color in another great way to improve students’ learning experiences in the classroom. Color can be used to make understanding the classroom as easy as possible. For example, you can use a color scheme to distinguish between each subject. If students have a green folder for science homework and a red folder for math homework, it will be easy for them to keep the subjects separate. By creating clear color schemes, students can spend more energy focusing on course material rather than focusing on where to find their homework. 

At this point, technology is unavoidable: the real question is, how do we use technology to our advantage in the classroom? There are many benefits of having technology in schools. Some of these include an increase in student engagement and increased access to educational resources. By making computers available in the classroom, students are able to quickly answer scholastic questions and expand on how much they are learning each day. Additionally, exposure to technology early on allows teachers to prepare their students for the future. Technology is not going away anytime soon, so why not equip our students with these real word skills as early as we can? 

These are just a few of the ways we can improve the design and functionality of our classrooms; although, it is important to note that every teacher, student, and school can benefit from a wide variety of classroom designs. In other words, there is not just one way to design a classroom.

Anthropologists believe that the design has the power to change the way we experience the world. Classrooms must be built to facilitate a variety of learning needs all around the world. Because of this, classrooms will look different everywhere. 

For example, the Dipshikha school in Bangladesh is made of soil, brick, bamboo, and other local materials. The school was constructed to have large open spaces in order to help students socialize and build collaborative skills. These lessons are important because of the rural location of the school—people must rely on one another for help. 

Additionally, the Baan Huay Sarn-Yaw Post Disaster School in Thailand had many considerations for construction. This region of Thailand is prone to Earthquakes so designers and architects needed to build an earthquake proof school that also facilitated strong learning. Architects were able to build a low cost, earthquake resistant space while also considering students learning. Classrooms contain bamboo shelves, plants, and high exposure to sunlight. 

From just a few examples we can see that classrooms look different all around the world so feel free to experiment with your classroom design in order to find what is best for you and your students. 

Classroom design plays an important role in a student’s ability to learn. Recent research demonstrates that being intentional with how we design our classrooms can drastically change learning outcomes. Factors such as natural light, classroom flexibility, color schemes, and the introduction of technology can all impact the educational wellbeing of students. Students show increased levels of interest, motivation, and academic achievement when these factors are taken into account. As we look to the future, it is important to continue asking how we can improve classrooms to enhance students' learning. Ultimately, the design of our classrooms holds the power to transform the educational experience for students. How will you make a change?


  1. How Does Classroom Design Affect a Child’s Ability To Learn (2018) 
  2. Then And Now: How History Has Changed Classroom Design 
  3. The Impact of Classroom Design on Pupils’ Learning: Final Results of a Holistic, Multilevel Analysis (2015)
  4. Why is Natural Light so Important in School Design? 
  5. Impact of Lighting on School Performance in European Classrooms (2013) 
  6. Four Ways Classroom Design Impacts Executive Functioning (2022)