Sustainable Building

A space to thrive: how learning environments can boost productivity

Comfortable indoor ventilation

Education, education, education. This well-practiced rallying cry to hail the importance of learning is as relevant today as it’s ever been, with squeezed funding and national targets applying pressure across the whole system. Yet despite these challenges, the consistently high standards and stretched resources are prompting some new developments in the education arena. With trusts and academies emerging as the major funders of new educational establishments and refurbishments, we are seeing a marked move towards modern, carefully designed buildings which are as inspirational as they are functional.

Schools…more than a building?

Wellbeing, health and comfort are slowly starting to move up the agenda in terms of construction and building management as a whole. In turn, schools too are now beginning to be seen as much more than just a place where teaching and learning happens, and more as a part of the solution itself: an effective, positive learning environment where the very fabric of the building and the features within it can contribute to the students’ success.

So what exactly do we mean by this?

Any environment where we spend a great deal of time, whether it’s an office, a nursery, a school, or a healthcare facility, needs to have fundamental features in place to ensure we are comfortable. This includes quality of light, enough space and, temperature. No matter how interesting the lesson, successful the sports game or delicious the canteen food, a school experience can always be dampened and remembered for the wrong reasons if were uncomfortable for any reason. It’s a simple fact: our comfort affects our ability to concentrate, to enjoy ourselves and to be productive.

Comfort in class

For effective learning to take place, a combination of stimulation and concentration in the classroom is a must. Much of the stimulation aspect needs to be down to the teachers: teaching style, materials or resources used and ways in which to bring the subject matter to life, whether visually, practically or verbally.

Concentration is a little more complex.

Individuals also contribute to this: how willing they are to learn, how much sleep they’ve had, even their personality! Basic human conditions and the environment we are in also play a huge part in how much we can physically concentrate. Being hungry, overtired or the room being too light, dark, hot or cold can seriously affect how much attention we can pay and how much information we can process.

Concentration levels

Thermal comfort plays an extremely important role in our ability to concentrate. Being too hot or cold seriously impairs our comfort level and can distract us from being able to focus on anything else – our human instincts guide us to redress the balance and adjust our temperature to ‘just right’. In schools, this mismatched comfort can lead to less concentration, disruption and ultimately, a lack of effective learning. In terms of the educational environment, choosing the right solution to suit the age group of the students and the space and layout of the room is crucial.

For young children, low surface temperature (LST) radiators are a sensible choice. For corridors and high traffic areas classic style radiators, such as multi-column or panel models are ideal, as they are robust enough to withstand regular contact and movement. And for sports halls, assembly halls and large spaces, radiant ceiling panels are the best option, due to their height and out of the way position and their ability to only heat necessary objects within a vast space, thus saving energy and money.

Reducing noise to increase productivity

Noise is also an issue. Schools are expected to be busy, bustling places, but having quiet in the classroom, or at least, a lack of distracting background noise, can significantly boost productivity and learning levels. A study conducted by Belgian researchers and published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that this is particularly true of younger students. The study showed that the brains of children ages 6-9 ‘have a significantly harder time than adult brains tracking and distinguishing voices amid background noise.’ It also found that for younger learners, who are learning to read and distinguish specific spoken words and sounds, having quiet in the classroom was paramount.

Lighting up young minds

Another important consideration in creating the ideal learning environment is light. A University of Cambridge study presented at the British Educational Research Association in 2007 showed that if classrooms were too bright, students developed headaches and other symptoms which prevented them from concentrating in class. Flickering fluorescent panels were found to be not only too bright but also a source of distraction and discomfort for classroom occupants.

Multi-service solution

Solving all of these issues in an attempt to create the optimal learning space can be expensive, time-consuming and disruptive, in terms of installing different systems to cover light, heat and acoustics. However, innovative technology and a meeting of minds between indoor climate and lighting experts means that many new educational establishments are benefitting from a combined approach which houses all three in one.

The multi-service foil, developed by the team here at Zehnder in conjunction with lighting specialists, Whitecroft Lighting, is a system which combines a radiant heating panel, lighting and an acoustics solution to ensure the noise level of the room is suitably balanced.

The multi-service foil combines all the best features of good heating and cooling, lighting and acoustics while allowing other services to be incorporated into its aesthetic design, such as:

– speakers

– smoke detectors

– fire alarms

– sprinkler heads

An added bonus is that as all of the systems exist in one product, greatly reducing installation times meaning only one team is needed to install the single system.

As technology continues to develop and the world gets busier and more populated with information, getting young minds to focus and learn effectively in the classroom is only going to get more challenging. Harnessing technology to produce and implement solutions like this which tackle multiple requirements in one unit is a great first step in improving the environments in which the next generation can learn, study and thrive.

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