Survey on learning environments - Results

Hey!Cheese for TALIS DESIGN / Lishin Elementary School Library

The findings of our latest survey show that the school environment is generally not suitable for 21st-century education. Teachers wish to have a flexible space in the school for varied learning approaches to facilitate innovation, and they believe that there are simple, low-cost steps that can be taken to improve the learning environment.

Thinking about the learning environment in your school or a school you know of, is it fit for purpose? Does it support innovative teaching and learning? How could it be different?

A school’s learning environment plays a crucial role in teaching, learning and well-being, for both students and teachers. School leaders and teachers are rethinking school spaces as they consider how best to integrate collaborative learning, outdoor learning, digital technology, independent study and informal learning in their school. A flexible learning environment can refer not only to changing the layout of the classrooms, but also to different locations altogether. A change in space might encourage collaboration or allow direct impact with the topic of learning (e.g. art, heritage, science). Such changes to the learning environment need not be expensive but can have a high impact: research shows that the learning environment can affect student progress by as much as 16% over a school year.

The survey on learning environments was open on School Education Gateway from 23 August to 9 October and gathered a total of 374 responses.


Results (N=374)

1. In your school, or a school you know, which of the following spaces are used for teaching and learning?

Survey on learning environments - Graph 1

Almost three quarters of survey participants (71%) indicate that a laboratory with specialised equipment (e.g. science equipment, computers) is a regular space used for teaching and learning. The gymnasium/sports hall was also mentioned by some participants (65%) and the library or resource area by others (58%). Half (49%) reported that teaching and learning also take place in the courtyard or an outdoor play area on the school premises, while almost half (43%) mentioned that learning happens online, in a digital learning environment (e.g. Moodle, learning platform, virtual classroom).

Only 4 in 10 respondents said that their school, or one they knew, used a large hall or lecture theatre for teaching and learning.

Even fewer respondents selected other learning settings. For example, despite a popular desire to boost pupil creativity and cultural awareness and expression, only a third of respondents’ schools have an arts facility with equipment, e.g. for art, music, drama, photography or film (35%), or use local community spaces such as museums, galleries and theatres (30%) – this despite advocacy of co-operation and community involvement in school education.

Local outdoor spaces like activity centres, forests or fields are also only known to be used by a third of the participants (33%). Equally uncommon are spaces for students with special needs (31%), the corridor or common area (28%), and indoor space that can be subdivided, e.g. with a temporary partition (20%).

The least mentioned space (by 13%) is an experimental area, e.g. a classroom of the future.

2. How many students can be seated in a typical classroom?

Survey on learning environments - Graph 2

73% of classrooms are reported as being able to accommodate 21-30 students. Only 14% are smaller than this and 12% are larger. This may have a bearing on the capacity of teachers to undertake learning approaches that allow students to spread out and move around freely. Equally there may be few spaces to support very small groups or one-to-one tuition.

3. What is the seating layout in a typical classroom?

Survey on learning environments - Graph 3

Asked about the seating layout, the overwhelming majority of survey respondents (78%) reported having “traditional” classrooms with either pairs of desks in rows (55%) or individual desks in rows (23%). In 12% of classrooms, students are seated in clusters of desks (e.g. for 6 students in a group). Other seating arrangements are rarely found: the horseshoe (6%), the double horseshoe (2%), the L shape (1%) and the T shape (1%). Movable chairs with built-in tables replace desks in just 2% of respondents’ classrooms.

4. Which equipment is available in (most) classrooms?

Survey on learning environments - Graph 4

A chalkboard or whiteboard is the equipment most frequently mentioned as available in most classrooms (91%). Display boards or wall space for display are available in 50% of cases followed by a music system/speakers (38%).

The most frequently mentioned item of digital equipment is a digital projector or smartboard (73%, although this high figure is not echoed in other larger-scale surveys), followed by tablets or personal computers (27%).

Facilities that provide a pleasant environment include the availability of drinking water (16%), carpet/rugs (12%) and mechanisms to measure and adjust the environment (e.g. sound insulation, levels of lighting, temperature or air quality) (10%). A small percentage of respondents (9%) indicated that the classrooms have adjustable desks (e.g. raised to stand) and 8% of the respondents listed armchairs, ottomans or beanbags as equipment available in most classrooms.

Recycling bins can be found in 49% of respondents’ classrooms.

5. To what extent do you agree with the following statements?

  1. The school environment is not suitable for 21st-century education.
  2. The learning environment is inclusive and accessible to all (i.e. adapted for pupils with reduced mobility, and hearing and visual impairments).
  3. Changes to learning environments can distract students.
  4. Changes to learning environments can be stressful for teachers.
  5. The school’s design encourages teachers to apply new ideas, collaborate and experiment (e.g. shared area for planning and discussion, larger/flexible space for new activities or co-teaching).
  6. The learning environment encourages and supports the use of technologies.
  7. Innovation in teaching and learning is facilitated by the school’s learning environment.
  8. School leadership and staff mostly disapprove of changing the learning environment (space, furniture, etc.).
  9. It is not possible to change the learning environment in my school.
  10. Students often complain about their learning environment (e.g. noise, comfort, light, suitability for tasks).
  11. Ministries and regional/local authorities are not supporting schools enough to create an optimal physical environment for modern teaching and learning.
  12. There are simple, low-cost steps that teachers can take to improve the learning environment.

Survey on learning environments - Graph 5

Over two thirds of respondents (69%) do not find the school environment suitable for 21st-century education. However, 28% take the opposite view.

The question regarding the accessibility and inclusiveness of the learning environment divided survey participants: 47% agreed or strongly agreed that the learning environment is accessible and inclusive, while half the respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with this.

A majority of participants (77%) disagree or strongly disagree that changes to learning environments distract students. On the other hand, 20% of respondents agree or strongly agree that changes may have a negative impact on students’ attention levels.

For over half of the respondents (57%), changes to learning environments don’t cause stress to teachers. On the other hand, 38% of them believe that such changes can be a stressor of some kind.

Regarding the potential that a school’s design has to encourage teachers to apply new ideas, collaborate and experiment, well over half the participants (62%) agreed that it plays a significant role in the way teachers teach, while a minority (35%) disagreed with this statement.

The majority of respondents (76%) also reported that the learning environment encourages and supports the use of technologies. A minority of respondents (21%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.

Three quarters of survey participants (75%) indicated that innovation in teaching and learning is facilitated by the school’s learning environment; only 23% of them don’t share this opinion.

There is a general view that management supports making changes in classrooms, with the majority of respondents (57%) claiming this to be true. About one third of respondents (36%) stated that their school leadership and staff disapprove of changing the learning environment.

This is further bolstered by a majority of respondents (72%) agreeing or strongly agreeing that it is possible to change the learning environment in their school. A minority of them (27%) disagree.

According to most respondents (58%), students often complain about their learning environment (e.g. noise, comfort, light, suitability for tasks). 39% of them disagree that this is the case.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (81%) believe that ministries and regional/local authorities are not supporting schools enough in creating an optimal environment for modern teaching and learning. Only 14% of them disagree with this statement.

On the other hand, 81% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that there are simple, low-cost steps that teachers can take to improve the learning environment. Only 15% of them disagreed with this statement.

6. Which three changes to the learning environment would you most like to see?

Survey on learning environments - Graph 6

Asked about which three changes to the learning environment they would like to see in their schools, respondents most frequently cited a flexible space in the school for varied learning approaches (68%). Almost as many (60%) express a desire for more integration of technology to support learning. Other desired changes include more open spaces to support teacher collaboration (39%), more variety of furniture (e.g. large cushions, adjustable desks) (39%), attractive surroundings (e.g. works of art, posters, plants, displays of students’ work) (34%), adaptation to improve access for students with special needs or disabilities (21%) and improved lighting or sound insulation (17%). A minority of respondents indicated that they would like to have better air quality and permission to change the furniture layout (11% and 10%).

Conclusion

The survey reveals that two thirds of respondents think that their school does not have an environment conducive to 21st-century education.

The classroom seems to be the main space used for teaching and learning, and a black- or whiteboard together with a projector seems to be the equipment available in the majority of the classrooms. Most classrooms are set up for 21-30 students and the most common seating layout is pairs of desks in rows. Participants tend to disagree that changes to learning environments distract students or create stress to teachers. Respondents believe that innovation in teaching and learning is facilitated by the school’s learning environment – the school design encourages teachers to apply new ideas, collaborate and experiment, as well as supports the use of technologies.

Most respondents believe that it is possible to change the learning environment in their school and that there are simple, low-cost steps to do so. However, 8 out of 10 respondents agree that ministries and regional/local authorities are not supporting schools enough in creating an optimal environment for modern teaching and learning.

Many participants would like their schools to have a flexible space for varied learning approaches and they would like to integrate technology in the learning process to support learning. They also highlight the need for teacher collaboration, so it is not surprising that they would like to have more open spaces to support it.


Annex: Role of respondents

Survey on learning environments - Role of respondents