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It’s Not Just Black and White: The Importance of Color in the Classroom

Did you know that certain colors can capture attention, increase alertness, or influence one's mood? By applying the principles of color psychology in the classroom, we can design smarter spaces for learning.

By Sylvia Hajo


August 28, 2018

There are many factors that dictate a person’s learning abilities other than just paying attention in class. Environment has a huge influence on a student’s attention, creativity, concentration, and calmness, which means that designers play a significant role in helping students learn. While color is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think about school, it actually is highly influential in regards to creating a supportive classroom for learning.

Color is believed to be the most important visual experience to human beings, a fact that’s long been known in the advertisement industry. Most advertisements strategically attract consumers’ attention and portray a specific attitude towards a brand. Color can also increase memory performance and has been found to increase brand recognition by as much as 80%. Companies often use a color emotion guide when branding, which links specific colors to a range of moods and feelings:

  • Grey: Balance & Calm
  • Green: Peaceful & Health
  • Blue: Trust & Strength
  • Purple: Creative & Wise
  • Red: Excitement & Bold
  • Orange: Friendly & Confident
  • Yellow: Optimism & Warmth


Knowing the above, how does this translate in an educational environment?

While color psychology has been widely adopted by the advertising industry, these same takeaways are applicable to the classroom setting as well. Color has the ability to influence one’s mood, health and performance which means that certain paint colors or furniture choices have a direct impact on what takes place inside the classroom as well.

Certain colors can capture attention, increase alertness, or create calmness. By designing classrooms with this in mind, the learning environment is well suited to enhance learning abilities and memory retention.

Typically, classroom walls are more of a mélange of artwork, homework, and visual aids for student viewing which ends up looking visually chaotic. While these details are obviously intended to help students learn, they counterproductively cause stress and anxiety as well as embed negative learning behaviors. Instead, display areas should be confined to a space within the classroom, rather than scattered throughout the entire room. Colors in the learning environment should be selected to “maximize information retention and stimulate participation”, according to classroom design group Smith System. “The key to creating an environment conducive to learning in a classroom is to not over-stimulate learners. Overstimulation is often caused by large amounts of bright colors, especially reds and oranges. Calmness, relaxation, happiness and comfort are feelings elicited by colors such as green and blue.”


How do you achieve an appropriate color balance for a learning environment?

When selecting colors for the classroom there are several factors to consider. Some questions you should think about include:

  • How will the environment be used? 
    • Is it an energetic environment, calm environment, creative environment, or a focused environment?
  • What is the age range of the students?
    • The age of the student influences which color palate should be considered. As the use of bright colors can create stress and anxiety, younger children actually prefer these environments.
    • Younger children tend to gravitate towards warmer palettes and older students towards cooler palettes.

Color palettes can feature a variety of shades of the same color to set a specific mood, or layered with other colors for a more dynamic environment. An effective color palette can enhance information retention and facilitate the thinking process as well. By learning the principles of color psychology, not only can we help students learn better, but we can use these tools to influence our own learning and work habits too.


Lead image by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

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