Though children are not usually actively examining the walls, the results are in line with earlier studies on how children are impacted by the physical setup of learning environments. “Young children spend a lot of time — usually the whole day — in the same classroom, and we have shown that a classroom’s visual environment can affect how much children learn,” said Anna V. Fisher, the paper’s lead author.
The research could also lead to better understanding of correct learning and testing environments. With just a change from a decorated to sparse classroom, the accuracy with which children could remember the science lessons they had been taught in the experiment jumped from 42% to 55% — a discrepancy that can be important considering that about 70% of American schools are currently labeled “in need of improvements” under the new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The researchers were also testing to see whether, in the absence of visual distractions, students would shift to an alternative distraction, such as talking to friends. What they actually found, though, according to Karrie E. Godwin, was that children in the more decorated classroom spent more time off-task than those in the sparse classroom.
“We do not suggest by any means that this is the answer to all education problems,” Fisher acknowledges.