Do Open Plan Classrooms Have a Negative Effect on Learning?

Open plan classrooms have a negative effect on learningAs a result of current architectural fashion many schools, both primary and secondary, have opted to introduce open plan classrooms and large teaching areas. And just as open plan offices have been criticised for their lack of privacy and their employee’s decreased ability to work productively, research suggests that there is an urgent need to revaluate these designs in our educational facilities.

A great deal of research has been conducted in relation to children, teachers, and school environments whether concerning teaching styles, teaching methods, the bare wall theory or as we’ll discuss here; open plan learning.

A Little Bit of History

Open plan classrooms were initially introduced more than 50 years ago when they gained wide spread popularity following the progressive education reform movements of the 1950s and 60s. Reflecting political changes we began to reject anything considered authoritarian and children became the focus rather than their teachers.

The 1980s saw some opposition and educational facilities reverted back to four walled, lined desk, 30 pupil strong classrooms with teachers directing from the front. However, in recent year’s progressive education is one more being encouraged to facilitate group work and children’s social development. But the big question is whether these are in fact doing more damage than good.

Difficulty to Learn

Research in school environments has been conducted for years but often focusing on the effects of external distractions. However, due to the increase in open plan classrooms research has changed direction and on the whole concludes that open learning is simply not conducive to learning.

Due to open layouts there is an increase in both noise and movement distractions; whilst one classroom is basking in loud group work another group of children are attempting to quietly work through their tasks. These distractions show a significant drop in pupil’s performance, particularly in learning to read when background noise interferes.

Difficulty to Teach

It is also important to mention that open plan classrooms don’t just negatively impact students but their teachers too. According to research from Erlend Vinje, when asked about their perception of being able to encourage learning, the examined teachers from traditional schools showed far higher levels of satisfaction than their colleagues in open-plan environments.

Teachers are often distracted by the level of noise themselves and as a result find that communication is more difficult as their pupils struggle to hear. It is also suggested that teachers in open plan environments are more susceptible to vocal strain and voice problems due to the need to elevate their voices.

A Flexible Solution

It is clear then that research for positive learning argues strongly in favour of a traditional classroom model and teacher led organisation of instruction and learning. However, there may be occasions which arise for group learning and open space is often ideal. Therefore classrooms which are purpose built as flexible learning spaces with the correct acoustic treatment and operable walls that can be closed when a class is engaged in critical listening activities are essential.

Folding walls are not only great for dividing these open learning areas but also partitioning rooms for individual study spaces and facilitating smaller group activities. At Building Additions we supply different levels of acoustic performance as well as a wide range of finished including bespoke images, such as maps or vision panels, and a multitude of stacking positions.

Get in Touch

As research has proven acoustically treated, enclosed classrooms make the best learning space, especially for younger children who are yet to fully develop cognitive skills. Instead take advantage of both learning spaces with a flexible and tailored partition solution.

For more information and advice when considering a partition wall for an educational facility give our knowledgeable and experienced team a call on 01373 454577