5 Ways to Create a Brain Friendly Environment #4 Free the Furniture

What’s the furniture like where you’re learning? I’ll bet it’s not a question you ask yourself too often but it might be furniturehaving an impact on the physiology and mindset of your participants. There’s not much research done on the impact of furniture in an organisational learning environment but there some ideas from educational settings and furniture seems to affect how we feel about our environment and how we respond. Great learning starts with being motivated so create a helpful learning state with the furniture.

It seems that round and curvy furniture can encourage people to feel more cheerful. Students rated computer generated room layouts with higher pleasure and approach ratings when the furniture was round and curvy rather than straight furniture with hard edges.

One study showed that class room design might lead to a 25% difference in student progress over an academic year – this means the difference between the best and worst designed classrooms in the study could be a years worth of academic progress. This particular study found 6 features of classroom design had an impact on learning: colour, choice of furniture for different activities, complexity of layout, flexibility to move/ change, furniture enhancing social connection, and yet again light; Colourful furniture was seen to increase the amount of visual stimulation for learners.

Room and desk size have been found to have an impact on the peoples comfort in discussing personal issues. Almost conversely to what you may think a larger room and larger desk seem to make personal conversations easier ‘because they felt the room was more spacious’. It was noted that this particular study had some design flaws so more work is required.

JISC consider the environmental factors relating to learning and have have found that students interact more easily and have better discussions when they can easily turn around and work with students behind them so suggest that rotating chairs promote better communication.

Brain friendly learning always emphasises giving choices to learners so if your furniture is flexible it’s another way to offer that. We’ve seen learners who are clearly uncomfortable physically or emotionally in a particular layout or chairs or tables and yet who are reluctant to move if the layout is fixed, even when they are invited to move to where they are comfortable. Our experience has been that chairs with wheels encourage people to move and feel OK about choosing the layout themselves – often unconciously selecting the appropriate layout for an activity or learning state.
You may not always have a choice about the furniture you find in a room but you can usually choose the layout. If you’re using a brain friendly approach you want to increase collaboration and interaction between trainers / facilitators and learners so choose your layout well. Send information in advance to the venue so they can do the bulk of the work but I always suggest arriving early in plenty of time to assess the situation and move furniture around to make the best environment you can. Fixed elements like projectors might make you think you have to conform to what’s there but try experimenting with putting the projector over to the side instead of being at the front of the room. People will have to turn to look at the projector but it means it’s not a distraction when it’s not required and signals that this learning session may be different to a more standard session.

It’s so much easier to create a dynamic changing environment when the furniture moves – but please remember to put brakes on tables after you’ve moved them.
Start to pay attention to the furniture and the room layout when learning seems to be going really well. It’s likely different set ups or spaces enhance different elements of the learning process so don’t think there’s only one answer – test, experiment and report back.

For more tips like this and much more join us for How to be a Brain Friendly Trainer programme 18th – 20th October 2016 in Derbyshire.