Behavioural & Cognitive Sciences

The influence of the physical environment on student satisfaction

Learning environments continuously evolve from beyond the mere physical to the digital space. However, research shows that the physical learning environment can positively affect students’ satisfaction and their general well-being. University of Luxembourg researchers Dr. Andreia Pinto Costa and Prof. Dr. Georges Steffgen explore how students’ satisfaction with their physical environment is connected to students’ satisfaction with their learning environment in the context of the move to a new modern campus.

In 2015, the University of Luxembourg Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences moved from an old campus to a new campus with modern facilities. The old campus was composed of several small buildings containing offices, class rooms, IT facilities, a library and a student lounge surrounding an old restored castle originating from the 19th century. The new campus has been designed to become a large scientific and cultural centre in Luxembourg offering state-of-the-art modern facilities to University students and staff.

Bachelor of Science in Psychology students were asked to evaluate their physical environment including the library facilities, classrooms and room capacity, IT facilities and workstation equipment. To assess how satisfied students were with their learning environment, they were asked to evaluate class climate and course requirements, learning promotion, teaching quality and skill acquisition. 771 students enrolled in the first, second and third year of the 3-year Bachelor programme participated in the study, which took place between the academic years 2011/2012 and 2018/2019.

The researchers compared students’ satisfaction with their learning and physical environment pre- and post-move including students from the three different years.  The research suggests that students were overall more satisfied with the new campus than the old one. An increase of satisfaction with classrooms, library and IT facilities as well as work places and room capacity could be identified. However, the findings are less clear in establishing a relation between the student satisfaction with their physical environment and the learning environment. The results show that, overall, students’ satisfaction with lecturers and teaching as well as students’ satisfaction with their acquisition of skills are based on an increased satisfaction with classrooms. However, the connection between other learning environment aspects such as course climate or learning promotion and the satisfaction with physical environment depends on the analysed student cohort. Findings also show that that first-year students seem to be more likely influenced by their physical environment than students in their last year.

The study pinpoints the importance for higher education institutions to better understand the different aspects influencing students’ academic learning and the role that the physical environment may hold in this process. Implications of building design and the use of space in higher education on academic learning and performances are not well explored yet. Evidence from such research could be used to develop design recommendations for learning spaces and enhance students’ satisfaction and their learning experiences.

We believe this work has implications that may be relevant for how we design and conceive the places where students learn and the role the environment can have in students’ academic development and learning. It shows that physical aspects, such as classrooms, can influence how teaching is perceived and the learning experience", Dr. Pinto Costa concludes.

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