Engineering for Learning Environments

"Is any built environment more important than learning environments? We could argue that hospitals, churches and homes all have their important place in society, but schools are key, and have unique engineering design requirements. Ventilation, acoustics and lighting need to be considered from the perspective of the teacher and student. Oxygen for an active brain is really what we are after in terms of Indoor Air Quality. Indoor Environmental Quality is often used to describe the bigger picture. A quiet and well-lit classroom, lab, or gymnasium are often taken for granted, but only result from attention to detail during design, construction and operation of the learning environment."

-Schemmer's Bryce Johnson, PE, LEED AP, QCxP, Mechanical Engineer

Engineering for Learning Environments

learning environments

OPS Columbian Elementary School

Innovative features in a classroom can greatly enhance learning capabilities, whereas poor ventilation and design can hinder cognition and learning.

The health and comfort of students and teachers are among the many factors that contribute to learning and productivity in the classroom, which in turn affect performance and achievement. Providing a healthy, comfortable environment is an investment in your students and staff. When it comes to air quality, failure to respond promptly and effectively to poor indoor air quality can lead to severe consequences.

Indoor Air Quality

Engineering for Learning Environments

OPS Columbian Elementary School

Two factors of engineering for air quality are:

HVAC maintenance

Adequate maintenance for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems can help reduce lower respiratory symptoms that affect student learning. These include wheezing, cough, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Effective HVAC maintenance practices support drain pan drainage to reduce excess moisture.


Ventilation rates in school classrooms can impact the school’s indoor air quality, affecting a child’s ability to learn. Students that learn in classrooms with higher outdoor air ventilation rates have been found to score higher on standardized math and reading tests. Additionally, increasing the amount of classroom air ventilation—and decreasing the difference between indoor and outdoor levels of carbon dioxide—can decrease student absenteeism.


In order to give students and teachers a well-lit environment, the inclusion of plenty of glass to see in and out of learning environments can serve two functions:

  • It directly aids learning. Designing for interior windows that look into classroom and lab spaces provides opportunities for observation. Students learn by seeing others do.
  • It improves aesthetics, which can also aid learning. A space with a lot of glass and light feels better. Students will feel more engaged and focused when their environment feels good.

Similarly, high ceilings help create a better feeling. They also improve ventilation. Studies have shown that high concentrations of carbon dioxide in buildings may hinder cognition and focus.

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