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How to improve learning with air conditioning

The first in a series of blogs by Roberto Mallozzi, MD of Gree UK on how air conditioning can improve the learning environment

Posted by Joe Lawson-West | September 19, 2017 | Facilities & buildings

It is a well-recognised phenomenon that the learning environment has a huge influence on the way that students learn and the amount of information they retain. For decades, a great deal of care has been taken with lighting and colour schemes when educational establishments have been planned, but it has only been in recent years that the need for the right oxygen/CO2 levels has been recognised and there is still little attention paid to temperature, beyond ensuring there is adequate heating.

However, it is becoming clear that, as with everything else, there is a Goldilocks zone for learning; not too hot and not too cold. While this has been known for some time, little has been done about it

A study by an undergraduate at Loyola University Chicago found that air temperature has an impact on memory ability. Using a computer-generated memory test, 52 students randomly participated in memory tests in rooms with varying temperatures, set at 72ºF, 80ºF and 64ºF. The result showed that in the 80ºF and 64ºF environment, memory was impacted negatively. Test scores were significantly higher in the classroom where the temperature was 72ºF.

A study by an undergraduate at Loyola University Chicago found that air temperature has an impact on memory ability.

In another US study as far back as the 70s, male college students were asked to learn and recall pairs of numbers at five temperature settings 52ºF, 62ºF, 72ºF, 82ºF, or 92°F. They learned and recalled best at 72°F, with performance declining at successively lower and higher air temperatures. Further experiments showed that relative humidity had an even greater effect.

Temperature also influences behaviour. A further US study concluded that when it is uncomfortably hot, we are less likely to be helpful or ‘prosocial’.

Data provided by a large Russian retail chain for part one of the study allowed the authors to analyse differences in individual behaviour under hot versus normal temperature conditions. Clerks working in an uncomfortably hot environment, according to the data, were 50% less likely to engage in prosocial behaviours, including volunteering to help customers, listening actively, and making suggestions.

So why are there so few inquiries from educators, except when there is brand new construction, major refurbishment or temporary classrooms are being added?

The effects of temperature, humidity, too high a level of CO2 and not enough fresh air, have been known for almost 50 years. All of these issues can be dealt with through various combinations of air conditioning and ventilation systems.

So why are there so few inquiries from educators, except when there is brand new construction, major refurbishment or temporary classrooms are being added?

I suspect there are two main reasons. The first is cost. In a climate of austerity, air conditioning is perceived as an expensive luxury, that is only necessary for a brief period of the year. This of course ignores that fact that heat pump air conditioning is one of the most cost-effective forms of heating as well as cooling. It also ignores the fact that there are a number of better value brands, such as Gree, that are now available, with the same performance as the more expensive versions.

The other reason is the belief that the buildings themselves would either be unsuitable for the installation of air conditioning, or that the units would not blend in to the classroom environment; especially in older buildings. This is to hugely underestimate the variety and style of modern units, and the numerous mounting options.

All these are issues I will return to in later blogs.

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