These days, a lot of schools in Victoria, Australia, are spending millions of dollars on creating “learning neighbourhoods” or “learning studios”. In these open spaced areas, a lot of the focus falls on creating environments (spaces) for groups of students where they feel safe to take risks with their learning. The influence of ’space’ in the learning, now comes into play. I am aware of the importance of a more unified approach to highlight the importance of aspects like furniture (grouping of and design of), colour, lighting, floor covering and natural light areas, to drive the designs and planning of these learning areas.
I have been interested in how the physical aspects can impact on the learning that takes place in the learning spaces. I will write a series of blog entries that focus on each aspect individually. I have already touched on one aspect, namely ‘Music’ for learning (previous blog post). Today I would like to look at Colour and the role it plays in promoting different kinds of learning. To kick off, you may also find this article interesting: What Colors Mean in Different Cultures: – http://tinyurl.com/2v4w2lx.
Colour for learning
We are six billion people living in a color-drenched world. Researchers believe that there are between one million and seven million colors that the human eye can distinguish. According to Berlin and Kay’s linguistic study, eleven basic color terms that fall into three classes are listed:
Black, gray, white (achromatic color terms)
Red, green, blue, yellow (primary color terms)
Brown, orange, purple, pink (secondary color terms)
Obviously people distinguish between different hues of colour. For a more in depth discussion on this topic, please visit http://www.colormatters.com/words.html. If you would like to express your views on colour and find out what other associate with different colours, take part in this colour survey: http://express.colormatters.com/colorsurvey/
Color in the learning environment provides an unthreatening environment that improves visual processing, reduces stress, and challenges brain development through visual stimulation/relationships and pattern seeking. Visual stimulation actually rewires the brain, making stronger connections while fostering visual thinking, problem solving, and creativity (Simmons, 1995). Colour should be incorporated to promote brain activity, but using more than six colours can be a distractor in classrooms, and strains the mind’s cognitive abilities.
Faily (1979) reported findings that optical stimulation by the use of warm colors and brilliance of lighting will cause increases in muscular tensions, respiration rate, heart action, blood pressure and brain activity. Cool colors and dim lighting bring about reverse effects such as muscles relaxing more and sleep being facilitated.
Yellow (and the yellow family of colors) gets your attention faster than any other color. People notice yellow objects first.
Even when you are looking straight ahead, you can see a yellow object that is not in front of you “in the corners of your eyes” much sooner than any other color – even red. Scientists describe this as follows: “Lateral peripheral vision for detecting yellows is 1.24 times greater than for red.”
Many experts also point out that colors such as yellow or greenish-yellow are more visible to the human eye under dimmer conditions compared to red.
Yellow was also chosen as the colour of “positive thinking”, and identifying benefits, by De Bono in his Six hat theory.
It stands to reason that yellow is a good colour to stimulate the brain into rapid thinking and to encourage generating quick and rapid thinking, brainstorming and discussions around a subject area. Using yellow -especially bright yellow or yellow-orange mixtures like the colour of school buses in America – in an environment, will allow for stimulating discussions, but will also bring the noise level up and may be a distraction when used for large areas in a classroom or learning environment. Babies cry more in yellow rooms, and people loose their tempers easier in all yellow rooms. As it attracts the eye, it is used for large farm equipment, as a warning light on traffic lights and as an indicator on cars, and for the well known “yellow sticky notes”.
It has been found that light yellow (happiness, warmth, summer energetic, lively) together with green (nature, trees, comfort) are the preferred colours for large areas when students reach high school age, whereas pure primary colours like bright red, bright blue and pure, sunny yellow are the preferred colours for large areas in kindergarten and early primary years (http://www.leadered.com/pdf/Color%20white%20paper.pdf).
The color of the sky and the ocean, blue is one of the most popular colors. Blue has a ’split personality’, and in our language, ‘having the blues’ or ‘being blue’ depict being sad, while the French uses blue to depict surprise (’sacre bleu!’) Lighter shades of blue are seen as peaceful and tranquil, and causes the body to produce chemicals that promote feelings calmness. For this reason it is often seen in bedrooms. Darker shades of blue are usually associated with dignity and loyalty, and even high class – an old phrase for the upper class of society was “blue stocking”.
When used alone with no warm accents, blue can also be cold and depressing. Fashion consultants recommend wearing tints and hues of darker blue to job interviews because it symbolizes dependability and loyalty. People are more productive in blue rooms when required to do individual work, or thinking deeply. Studies show weightlifters are able to handle heavier weights in blue gyms. It is no wonder that De Bono chose blue as the hat for promoting and focusing on problemsolving, to look for new ideas/leadership, and thinking about thinking (metacognition).
In September 1981, Dr. Wolfarth of Edmonton, Canada, studied the impact of light and colour on off task behaviour, in six year old students. He found that by only replacing the cool white fluorescent light fixtures and the semi-gloss white walls with full spectrum Duro-test Vita-Lite light fixtures, and painting the walls light blue, the off task behaviours decreased by 22%. It should be noted that the students spent the major part of their day in this classroom environment. In subsequent studies, where students spent their time in and out of this type of environment all day, the results were also erratic. (The normal ‘visual noise’ on the walls, e.g. the notes and posters on the orange and red bulletin boards, were retained. The same students and the same teachers participated throughout the trial. The classroom routine was not changed at all. Thus all other factors stayed the same.) This is a significant decrease in off task behaviour. Once again, colour and light seem to play an important role in how students learn, and how long they can stay on task, with light blue and natural light seeming to promote concentration and on task behaviour, while also lowering blood pressure. For further information on this trial, please refer to http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/13/e3/df.pdf.
Red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing, and is seen as an emotionally intense colour. It is also the color of love. Red clothing gets noticed and makes the wearer appear heavier. Since it is an extreme color, red clothing might not help people in negotiations or confrontations. Red cars are seen as symbols for driven, fast responses and speed, and are popular targets for thieves. In decorating, red is usually used as an accent, as it becomes very overpowering when used alone or for covering all the walls in a room. Decorators say that red furniture should be perfect since it will attract attention.
The red hat was chosen by De Bono to illustrate our emotions about a topic. Using the red hat, we can convey our instinctive gut reaction or statements of emotional feeling (without having to worry about any justification).
Red in classrooms are usually used as accents like on bulletin boards. It will draw the student’s attention, but not as much as yellow. It brings warmth and balance to cooler rooms where blue or green may be the main colours on the walls. It should be used very sparingly in rooms where autistic students are taught.
Green is a colour found abundantly in nature, and signifies growth, rebirth, and fertility. In Muslim countries, it is a holy color and in Ireland, a lucky color. It was the color of the heavens in the Ming Dynasty, and so green jade became a valuable commodity. Today’s greens provoke strong reactions. People usually either love it or hate it. It is also interesting that different hues or shades of green can elicit different reactions from people. Pea soup, green jelly, sleazy motel carpet, dreary hospital walls, ecology, emeralds, wasabi, and sage. Would you rather be green with envy, green behind the ears, or green around the gills? (Idiomatic American English for extremely envious, immature or nauseated.)
It is the easiest color on the eye and can improve focus on other areas of importantce, e.g. red or yellow bulletin boards. In Zimbabwe, all military vehicles are painted in a mixture of different hues of green, to make it less visible. Due to many accidents occuring with these vehicles in broad daylight, it is now law that all military vehicles will drive with their lights on when driving on main roads.
It is a calming, refreshing color. People waiting to appear on TV sit in “green rooms” to relax. Hospitals often use green because it relaxes patients. Brides in the Middle Ages wore green to symbolize fertility. Dark green is masculine, conservative, and implies wealth. The ‘greenback’ refers to money. In Feng Shui, green eases absent-mindedness, nervousness and rudeness. It also represents quietude, persistence, patience and hard work.
Green does not attract the eye or stimulate the brain like red or yellow. De Bono chose green as the colour to associate with deeper investigation, and for seeing where a thought goes.
Green has been used successfully in rooms where students with autism are being taught, especially if the floor and the walls are duller hues of green.
In Western societies, brides wear white to symbolize innocence and purity. White reflects light, and is important in classrooms to make small spaces seem bigger. White is popular in decorating and in fashion because it is light, neutral, and goes with everything. However, white shows dirt and is therefore more difficult to keep clean than other colours, and thus impractical in classrooms as it will show scuff marks. Doctors and nurses wear white to imply sterility.
As mentioned in the section under the colour ‘blue’, full spectrum white light is really important to lower blood pressure and stope some behaviour management issues in classrooms. Light appears colorless or white. Sunlight is white light that is composed of all the colors of the spectrum. A rainbow is proof. You can’t see the colors of sunlight except when atmospheric conditions bend the light rays and create a rainbow. You can also use a prism to demonstrate this.
There are 1,000 plus terms used to define whites, off-whites, and beige. Adjectives such as glistening, pearly, shimmery, blinding, glittering, and gleaming were frequently coupled with white. More common terms, such as ivory, ecru, parchment, vanilla and cream, were used for off-whites and very light browns. For classrooms, it is important to remember that there are many different kinds of ‘white’. It ranges from cold white with blue and purple undertones to pinkish and yellow which are warmer, and perceived to be ‘friendlier’. Depending on the effect you want to achieve, decide carefully whether you want to use white on large wall areas, as it can be harsh on the eyes and show marks, but will not compete with accent areas like bulletin boards. When used on ceilings, the rooms will seem bigger and the less confining.
Other Color Recommendations (http://www.leadered.com/pdf/Color%20white%20paper.pdf)
- Gymnasium: ACTIVITY — red, red-orange, light orange, warm yellow, apricot, orange, lime, medium green, no turquoise
Hallway: REFRESH — green, blue, magenta, school colors
Cafeteria: NUTRITIOUS — orange, red, green, lime, dark brown; no blue, no yellow-green, no magenta
Auditorium: DIGNITY— violet, black, dark green, navy, warm neutrals, purple, burgundy
Media Center: RESTFUL — light green, peach, rose, light green, aqua, peach, cream; no white, no dark colors, no bold colors
Study Hall: STASIS — green, blue, brown, earth tones; no red, no orange
Kitchen: HOME — green, brown, beige
Toilets: COMFORT— white, blue,
Counseling: HARMONY— green, lavender, peach, medium brown, yellow, no red, no bright yellow
Offices: RELAX — turquoise, blue, brown, green, magenta; Sandstone, light gold, light green, blue-green, black; no red,
Entrances: SCHOOL COLORS
Lecture: THOUGHTFUL— blue, green, violet, magenta
Computer Skills Lab: ENCOURAGE — medium colors, provide visual relief; no bright colors
Biology: NATURE — blue, green, teal, brown, beige
Business: CORPORATE — blue, gray, black, burgundy, dark green
Chemistry: LOGIC — blue, green, indigo
Physics: ENERGY— blue, yellow, green, indigo
Foreign Language: FRIENDSHIP — yellow
History: AGE — amber, blue, yellow, sea green
Mathematics: LOGIC — indigo, blue
Social Studies: SOCIAL — orange, green, brown
Drama: PASSION — orange, indigo, blue, violet, red, white
Art: CREATIVE — green, violet, red, peach, pink, light yellow
Choral: TEAM — green
Band/Orchestra: TEAM — violet
Dance: CREATIVE — orange, purple, violet, yellow
Language Arts: COMMUNICATION — sea green, blue, green; no avocado, yellow-green, purple, chartreuse
Government: ORDER — blue, green, indigo, silver, gold, mauve, violet, magenta
Economics: WEALTH — emerald green, amber, violet, gold
Athletic Facilities: VITALITY— red, orange, bold colors; no turquoise
Clinic: CLEAN — sky blue, white, pink, green, light yellow
Shop: CONSTRUCT — -peach, pink, light yellow, violet
Culinary Arts: APPETITE — orange, light yellow
Floors: BACKGROUND — -neutrals, tints, school colors, wayfaring patterns
Walls: BACKGROUND — pale yellow (asthmatics), almond
It you want to find out which colours are in harmony with each other, refer to http://www.colormatters.com/colortheory.html
Following on from the previous blog post on ‘Colour for learning’, it is just as important to take note of the colours used on websites. When students build websites or start blog pages, or even when building a digital portfolio that can be used as a showcase of work and achievements, the use of colour to convey messages, cannot be underestimated. (Check out your very own colour using colorstrology http://www.colorstrology.com/colorstrology_sniffer.html)
Websites have different objectives, e.g. to inform, to sell something, or to entertain. As such, the website will always have a target audience. It is important to understand the target audience and their perception of colours, as there are many differences in the way colour is interpreted by different cultures, genders and even different age groups of people. As an example, red is perceived as a symbol for prosperity in some Eastern societies, whereas red is perceived as being a symbol for danger in some Western societies. Colors are also frequently associated with religious, cultural, political, or historical events, situations or groups. These things should be kept in mind by those who are trying to figure out what color to use for a website
In choosing a background/base colour for your website, it is safe to choose a neutral colour like black, brown or white, with beige and grey.
Warm colours like red, yellow and orange, suggest warmth and seem to move toward the viewer and appear closer. These colours will draw the eye, and can be stimulating and pleasant in small quantities, for example as a frame around a text box with interesting facts, or for a hyperlink. However, when presented in large quantities, warm colours become overpowering and can lead to eye strain and fatigue. In England, a bright yellow wall behind a computer screen has been noted as the reason a secretary started making lots of spelling mistakes and eventually resigned from her work! An overdose of warm colours will eventually produce a sensation of anxiety, uneasiness and aggression. People easily click out of websites where warm colours take up the biggest area of the screen.
Cool colours like different shades of blue and green and purple, usually lead to deeper thought processeses and prolonged concentration, and can be used in larger quantities than warm colours. Cool colours create the idea of being ‘further away’, so is less threatening, and easier on the eye.
Some colours borrow aspects of both warm and cool colours, and are called intermediary colours. Examples include yellow-green and red-purple. These colours are good to offset the primary colours, and to complement the colour scheme you choose.
As mentioned in the previous post, more than six colours in any environment lead to visual over-stimulation, and is tiring to the eye. Flasing images and lots of colour will turn many website visitors away. It is advisable to use colour harmonies to create visually attractive websites, which are not overpowering yet not drab and boring.
For inspiration, look towards what works in nature. Lots of green leaves with a few red flowers dotting the image, or a green tree with a few red apples hanging…red and green works well together, providing the green takes up most of the space.
Monet, Waterlilies http://www.abcgallery.com/M/monet/monet146.html
Another way to find out whether colours will work in harmony, is to look at the colour wheel. Use different shades (tints and hues) of the cool colour, and bring a few spots of interest with the corresponding warm colour which lies directly opposite the cool colour on the colour wheel. This means that all types of green go well with red, blue goes well with orange and purple goes well with yellow. When used in a web site, choose colours of lower intensity to put together, so they don’t seem to ‘vibrate’ on the screen, which will also lead to a visual overload.
Henri Matisse – Woman with the Hat, Paris – 1904-5, http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/2933/fauves/fvmatisse.htm
When choosing colours and different shades, keep in mind that different people may have different monitors. Some of the older equipment will not display the same colours as the newest technology, so it is better to play it safe and choose colours from the 216 colors browser-safe palette.
When choosing colours for your website, ensure your background colour will not interfere with the colour of your font. It is the safest option to choose black as the font colour, as it is easy to read. Your background colour should allow your font to be the focus, and not be a strain on the eyes. It is advisable not to choose a warm colour for the font of the main body of work. Warm colours can be useful when used for drawing attention to small details like links to websites and hyperlinks.