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Influencing learning with the psychology of colour

Kayleigh Whybrow, Senior Technical Colour Consultant at Johnstone's Trade, discusses the power of colour in an educational environment

Posted by Lucinda Reid | August 26, 2017 | Facilities & buildings

Colour in the education environment can often be a balancing act. When it comes to design, function typically wins over aesthetics as teachers, administrators and facilities managers battle with the challenge of pairing cost effective maintenance with durable finishes. However, a carefully considered use of colour can play a big role in aiding successful learning in education spaces by encouraging students to absorb information and participate in the classroom.

Thoughtful planning of colour can stimulate and help facilitate learning with children of all ages

Understanding the psychology of colour in particular can be a powerful tool. For example, certain colour palettes and tones have demonstrated beneficial effects on student’s health and wellbeing. The International Association of Colour Consultants – North America (IACC-NA) says that, “appropriate colour design is important in protecting eyesight, in creating surroundings that are conducive to studying, and in promoting physical and mental health.”

Thoughtful planning of colour can stimulate and help facilitate learning with children of all ages. By really understanding the ways in which different age groups respond to colour, it’s possible to create truly dynamic and productive learning spaces that deliver real benefits to every student’s experience.

Early years are key development periods for children, so primary school design needs to support this by creating a comforting yet stimulating environment where pupils feel safe to explore new ideas. Young children have very different stimuli than secondary school students, therefore they require alternative tones and colour palettes.

It’s a careful balance though; if the colours are too strong, bold or bright, or if clashing shades are used in the same room or area, it can be overstimulating

Warmer colour palettes including shades like yellow, orange and red are seen to be fun and motivating colours that bring a fresh feel to a classroom. These hues can also help boost energy and creativity, as well as influencing moods and emotions. For example, the colour yellow is understood to give a sense of optimism, encouraging students to release serotonin which can help to improve younger classes’ moods. Other colours, such as red, can help promote courage and conversation.

It’s a careful balance though; if the colours are too strong, bold or bright, or if clashing shades are used in the same room or area, it can be overstimulating and can cause some children to be overly energetic or anxious. Complementing bold primary colours with softer tones such as creamy yellow creates a warm, comforting interior which prevents this.

For high school students, research from Frank Mahnke points towards the cooler side of a colour palette incorporating blue, green and mauve tones. Although colours can still be fun, for teenagers, the classroom design needs more depth and maturity to create a calming atmosphere. These cooler shades are shown to help create a peaceful environment that can improve focus, reduce stress and support study. In turn, this can help overcome negative feelings of irritability, premature fatigue, lack of interest and behavioural problems.

Zoning is one way of subtly injecting colour to create areas for different types of learning

Green hues, for example, have a strong association with harmony due to their link to nature. Green is also central on the visible light spectrum meaning that the eye does not require any adjustment to register the colour. This allows the colour to bring a restful and calming quality, which is ideal for decision making.

Other colours in the cooler palette, such as blue, have been shown to aid attentiveness. Blue tones are frequently linked to the mental wellbeing so different tones can have different emotional impacts. While pastel shades are understood to aid concentration, strong blue shades can stimulate clear thought which is perfect for confident decision making.

The opposing colour palettes from primary school to high school reflect the change in the way learning is approached across different age groups. While early education demands vibrancy and energy as children explore new subjects, experiences and emotions, further education demands a more focused atmosphere where students can tackle complex learning and navigate new relationships.

Research on the psychology of colour within education settings all offer similar conclusions, ultimately highlighting the importance of colour to the individual

Bringing these shades into schools, colleges and universities doesn’t need to be on a huge scale, it can be easily balanced with maintaining durable, cost effective interiors. Zoning is one way of subtly injecting colour to create areas for different types of learning. For example: using blue in maths departments to help focus; violet in drama rooms to inspire creativity and imagination; or yellow, which is quietly motivating for languages.

Research on the psychology of colour within education settings all offer similar conclusions, ultimately highlighting the importance of colour to the individual. Colour often represents emotions, and drives how we respond to and interact with our environments. This interaction with colour naturally evolves as we age. By taking advantage of this relationship with colour, it’s possible to transform educational design into something that has a positive influence over the way individuals learn at every stage.

For more information, visit Johnstone's Trade

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