How does lighting influence learning?
The short answer is: considerably. Both natural and artificial lighting affect our health, mood, well-being and behaviour.
Some classrooms have terrible lighting that does learning no good whatsoever. For those poor souls that have to put up with the glare and intensity of fluorescent lights then I fully sympathise.
One of my previous classrooms was great when we didn’t have to put the lights on but awful when we did. The culprit: harsh and unforgiving fluorescent lights. Some children got headaches because of the lights but budgets wouldn’t allow for anything as revolutionary as making sure the environment was fit for learning.
This scenario isn’t uncommon. Unless you work in a flashy new ‘Grand Designs’ school, lighting facilities are often poor and ill-conceived. Solid-state lighting is the here and now not fluorescent ‘migraine’ lighting.
Lighting profoundly influences our physical and mental wellbeing so we should be ‘on’ this as a matter of priority. Studies show that if we get the lighting ‘right’ then these have very positive effects on our behavior in terms of working speed, productivity, and accuracy.
Light The Way
In their 2016 study, Kyungah Choi and Hyeon-Jeong Suk at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology found that variable lighting makes a great deal of difference to learning. They looked at the effects of lighting colour temperatures using tuanble LEDs and what they found was illuminating to say the least.
Their study involved 2 classrooms – one (the control group) had standard fluorescent lighting and the other was fitted with LED lights which could be tuned to different correlated colour temperatures from “warm” to “cool” using the Kelvin scale: 3500 K (a “warm” yellowish white), 5000 K (neutral), and 6500 K (a “cool,” bluish white that mimics natural daylight). The other classroom had standard fluorescent lighting and served as a control group.
Children in both classes sat a maths test and what the the researchers found was that using 6500K lighting helped children be more alert and they scored higher on their tests.
Certain activities benefit from different types of lighting and whilst 6500K might be great for sitting a test, other activities benefit from a warmer light. 5000K lighting best fits reading whereas 3500K is more suited to less academic pursuits.
As researcher Kyungah Choi says,
“The preliminary study and the field experiment fully supported a positive effect of 6500 K lighting on academic performance and 3500 K lighting on encouraging recess activities,”
For a smarter learning environment, the study urges us to think about adopting a dynamic lighting system by employing a user-centered lighting control system adjusted according to the rhythm of activities in class.
This would work as an app and would be very easy to use. For example,
Tanner (2009) carried out a survey of 71 US elementary schools, examining the impact of natural light and sources of artificial light in classrooms and found that good lighting significantly influences reading vocabulary and Science test scores.
The Clever Classrooms report from the University of Salford has also found,
“that there is clear evidence that the physical characteristics of primary schools do impact on pupils’ learning progress in reading, writing and mathematics.”
Obviously there are many other factors that impact on the internal environment and a holistic approach is needed but lighting plays a very significant part.
Schools persist with old-fashioned and economically inefficient lighting systems yet they shoot themselves in both feet: (1) they negatively impact on learning and (2) they are costly.
The research findings underline the importance of lighting for learning.
If we want to boost students’ cognitive, social, emotional and physical abilities then we really need to give some serious thought to variable lighting and next-generation lighting technology.
We can influence wellbeing by tuning into what works best and what works best is a dynamic lightning – why ignore the evidence when its as clear as daylight?