Classroom Design for Effective Instruction—What the Research Says | Education, Inc.

Classroom environments, including design, setup and decor, have a tremendous impact on student engagement and success. These things are also very important in alternative environments, such as hospitals and treatment centers, which serve as vital, albeit temporary, academic classrooms for student-patients. In fact, one English studyfound that classroom design could be attributed to a 25% impact, positive or negative, on a student’s progress over the course of an academic year.”

The study focused on 10 different design parameters, and found that 6 of them had a significant effect on learning. These 6 aspects of classroom design include:

  • Color
  • Choice
  • Complexity
  • Flexibility
  • Connection
  • Light

Items that impacted learning under these categories ranged from natural light and the ability to manipulate lighting, to flexibility in use of space and design aspects such as the color of walls.

Structural & Symbolic Design for Effective Instruction


How a classroom is built and set-up, and how the space functions all play an important role in how well students are able to access learning, and how motivated they are in the environment to do so.

In Designing Classrooms to Achieve Maximum Student Achievement, the authors (Cheryn et. al.) discuss how both structural components (such as lighting and noise) and symbolic features (decor or items that connect students to the environment) can have either positive or negative impacts on learning and achievement.

The main structural components that can facilitate or hinder learning, according to studies reviewed by the authors, include:

  • Lighting
  • Acoustics
  • Temperature
  • Air Quality
  • Accessibility

When designing a hospital classroom or educational space in a similar location, facilities should keep these 5 structural components in mind in order to lay the foundation for a healthy and productive learning area. With many competing priorities for time and attention during admission, a warm and welcoming space will help students feel comfortable in this temporary learning environment, and reduce outside distractions, allowing them to make the most of the limited time scheduled for academics during treatment.

While the physical infrastructure of a classroom may not be as flexible at times, teachers and unit staff should also be encouraged to create a welcoming space through use of symbolic features.

Creating a Welcoming Learning Space


According to Cheryn et. al. (2014)

“… scientific studies reveal the unexpected importance of a classroom’s symbolic features, such as objects and wall décor, in influencing student learning and achievement in that environment. Symbols inform students whether they are valued learners and belong within the classroom, with far-reaching consequences for students’ educational choices and achievement.

When student-patients enter a hospital or treatment facility, they may be overwhelmed with the change in environment, and have difficulty with the transition. By decorating the educational program’s learning space, students can understand what is expected in the space, feel a sense of normalization as it reflects typical classrooms, and experience increased motivation to engage in activities.

Wall color, posters, supplies, and decor all add to a student’s perception of the space, including the quality of the academic programming. Though it may take some creativity due to space limitations or off limit items (such as in behavioral health facilities), if a student sees that the hospital or treatment facilities has put effort into designing a space that is conducive to learning, they may be more likely to “buy in” to the idea of the alternative school setting.

Here are a few tips for creating a welcoming and engaging learning environment:


  1. Decorate with the students’ artwork, poetry, or projects. This helps them to find their place in the class community, and to feel ownership over the space.

2. Determine which seating arrangements are best for the educational goals and learning styles. In small group settings, group tables or semicircles work well for encouraging discussion. Edutopia has great ideas on other seating arrangements, making it easy to find one that works for your space.

3. Get creative with ideas from top educational leaders and experts, who were asked to describe their ideal Modern classroom.


While many factors affect student-patients drive, ability and determination to continue to make academic progress while away from school, having a classroom space that is engaging, motivating and inspiring goes a long way in helping to boost their enthusiasm to partake in academic tasks. It can also help them feel cared for, appreciated, and confident that their team and facility is committed to their needs and interests. For more on how to create a high-quality, supportive, and functional education program, contact us today.