Educational environment, Light colour, Cognition, Emotional development, Dynamic colour, Learning environment


José Quiles-Rodríguez1* , Ramon Palau2

1Consejería de Desarrollo Educativo y Formación Profesional, Junta de Andalucía (Spain)

2Department of Pedagogy, Universitat Rovira i Virgili (Spain)

Received May 2023

Accepted September 2023


Colour in the classroom, either in isolation or in conjunction with other environmental factors, is an element that has been widely discussed in the scientific literature, albeit not systematically. On the other hand, its evolution towards coloured light, made possible in recent years by light emitting diode (LED) technology, has hardly found a place among researchers. Despite the progressive rise of smart classrooms, intelligent learning environments or references by some authors to “dynamic lighting”, its analogous concept, “dynamic colour”, hardly appears in reviews of the scientific literature. This exploratory, quasi‑experimental study shows how coloured light affects the learning process in primary school classroom environments, integrating cognitive processes, instrumental learning and affective processes, and helping to define the dynamic potential of its use. The experimental part has been carried out for four weeks, collecting data that are analysed descriptively, comparatively with the control group and in the internal variance of the experimental group. The results show positive influence tendencies in the cognitive and affective processes of the students, although not so much in instrumental learning.


Keywords – Educational environment, Light colour, Cognition, Emotional development, Dynamic colour, Learning environment.

To cite this article:

Quiles-Rodríguez, J., & Palau, R. (2024). Effects of colored lighting on learning processes: Towards a smart classroom. Journal of Technology and Science Education, 14(2), 484-506.



    1. 1. Introduction

While classroom colour has been studied since the middle of the last century with multiple analyses, “coloured light” has not (Quiles-Rodríguez & Palau, 2023). In learning spaces where technology-enhanced enjoyment, efficiency and effectiveness are sought, as indicated by Goodyear and Retalis (2010), the improvement of academic performance is likely to be evident with the introduction of coloured lighting (Suh, Park & Iwamoto, 2020). Even more so considering the possibility of its dynamism, little studied educationally according to Poldma (2009), although it has been done with “dynamic lighting” (Mogas‑Recalde & Palau, 2021).

Only three studies shed some light on the subject: Rajae-Joordens (2010), Kombeiz and Steidle (2018) and Suh et al. (2020). A fourth article, Mogas-Recalde and Palau (2021), while not focusing on coloured light directly, is interesting in terms of its contribution to classroom lighting in general and its consideration of dynamism.

The research by Rajae-Joordens (2010) is carried out exclusively in a laboratory environment linked to the company Philips Research, using 20 of its employees. Both human arousal and liking are measured subjectively and objectively in relation to the variable coloured light. The subjective measurements are based on self-perception questionnaires, which are common in this type of work, and the objective measurements are based on data collected by technical instruments for the analysis of psychophysiological manifestations. The results of the study show no overlap between the two measurements.

The study by Kombeiz and Steidle (2018), framed in the field of ergonomics and psychology within a German university, is a quantitative study which aims to test two hypotheses in relation to blue and red light (approach motivation and creativity). The article coins the concept of “context colour”. A total of 146 individuals with an average age of 21 participated in the experiment, validating both hypotheses. It is considerable the appreciation that they consider themselves as “one of the few works that bridges the gap between colour and lighting research” (Kombeiz and Steidle, 2018: page 14), recognising interesting implications for the design of workplaces for creative activities.

The study by Suh et al. (2020) shows a connection between the emotional state of students and colour-filtered lighting. The experimentation, conducted in the USA in two different contexts, one with 25 students and four instructors in an interior design studio, and the other with 33 students and three instructors in an education classroom (ages 18-45), suggests that coloured lighting can have an effect on students’ mood, energy and level of liking. Overall, students had higher levels of liking under purple filtered lighting (relaxing and calming effect), while they felt more energetic under green light. This leads to the suggestion that future studies can explore how different coloured lighting affects a student’s psychological states. Continued research on the relationship between coloured lighting and emotional state can guide designers to create an environment with coloured lights appropriate for different activities, including integrating their dynamic nature.

The work of Mogas-Recalde and Palau (2021) consists of a systematic review of the literature on classroom lighting, focusing on the effect of lighting on learning processes. The combination of natural and artificial light is seen as the optimal classroom state for better student attention and academic performance, highlighting the dynamism of classroom lighting.

It is curious that three of the articles located do not occur until 2018, 2020 and 2021, and even more so that only the second of these, Suh et al. (2020), occurs in the classroom setting. And even more so that they barely focus on what will be dependent variable “cognitive processes” or “instrumental learning” being much more linked to affect, energy, liking, emotion, arousal. The article by Kombeiz and Steidle (2018) does focus on creativity, serving as a precedent for this study as will be seen in the discussion section.

It seems that education is missing out on the possibilities offered by technology, especially when educational research tends to be ahead of practice, which suggests that it will not be many years before coloured light reaches the classroom.

2. Questions, Hypothesis and Objetives

The above-mentioned scientific vacuum on the use of coloured light in the classroom poses a research problem that we now address through two general questions: How does coloured light influence learning processes in the classroom? What is the potential of “dynamic colour” in terms of its contribution to learning processes in the classroom? With the first question, we intend to explore whether and in what sense coloured light influences learning processes of different kinds in the classroom environment. Purely curricular instrumental learning, the work of different cognitive processes that are characteristically human and their affects are of interest. None of the previous studies have been carried out in primary sschool contexts, nor have they taken into account as many variables as those we will explore here. Our approach is exploratory, therefore broad and dispersed, as it seeks to obtain data on as many variables as possible (Ramírez, 2003).

The second of the questions seeks to delve into the dynamic specificity of coloured light, since it is not a question of exploring its influence on learning processes, but of knowing the specific associations of certain colours with certain learning processes, to their benefit or detriment, allowing the instantaneous selection of different types of colours thanks to LED lighting. Such a dynamic conception is impossible with the traditional conception of classroom colour. Now the educational impact of coloured light can be greater, becoming an important element in the design of future smart-classrooms.

On a more concrete level, our 4 research questions emerge. Knowing the FINER criteria -feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, relevant- on the assessment of research questions as collected by Eschenhagen, Vélez-Cuartas, Maldonado and Pino (2018), we pose them as follows:

RQ1. How does coloured light affect students’ cognitive processes in primary school classroom settings?

RQ2. How does coloured light affect students’ instrumental learning in primary classroom settings?

RQ3. How does coloured light affect students’ affective processes in primary classroom settings?

RQ4. What are the benefits and drawbacks of using “dynamic colour” in primary school classroom settings?

Hence, our specific goals expressed in the form of specific objectives are:

SO1. To show the incidence of coloured light on the cognitive processes of pupils in primary school classroom environments.

SO2. To show the incidence of coloured light on the basic instrumental learning of pupils in primary education classroom environments.

SO3. To show the incidence of coloured light on the affective processes of pupils in primary classroom settings.

SO4.To analyse the benefits and drawbacks of using “dynamic colour” in primary school classroom environments.

In order to answer this question, we carried out a quasi-experimental exploratory approach that will try to “determine trends, identify potential relationships between variables and set the tone for further, more rigorous research” (Dankhe, 1986: page 412). It involved two research groups from a primary school, an experimental and a control group. A total of 75 individuals took five different tests during the month of March 2021.

Speculating on the possible response to the problem posed when formulating the hypotheses (Buendía et al, 2001, as cited in Román-García & Prendes 2018) and aware of the variables handled, the existing theoretical framework, the purpose of being empirically contrasted as well as their clarity of definition (López Fuentes & Salmerón Vilchez, 2011), the hypotheses proposed are:

H1. The use of coloured light in primary education classroom environments generates an improvement in the development of students’ cognitive processes.

H2. The use of coloured light in primary education classroom environments generates an improvement in the acquisition of instrumental learning in students.

H3. The use of coloured light in primary school classroom environments leads to an improvement in the self-perception of the pupils’ affective processes.

H4. The use of “dynamic colour” in primary school classroom environments has the benefit of the adaptability of coloured light to the needs of each activity.

From the above we draw our general objectives, being:

GO1. To study the influence of coloured light on learning processes in primary school classroom environments.

GO2. To explore the potential of “Dynamic Colour” in primary school classroom environments for its contribution to learning processes.

3. Methodology

This is a quantitative exploratory quasi-experimental study with a control group as we can see in the research overview in Figure 1. According to Castañeda (2018) in Social Sciences, the control of all variables is almost impossible, with extraneous variables frequently appearing, making it difficult to establish cause-effect and, therefore, necessarily being quasi-experimental. It is appropriate to point out that no pre-test or post-test is carried out in this study, but there is a control group with which to carry out a comparative analysis, in addition to the analysis of variance in the four scenarios of the experimental group itself, thus achieving greater consistency. With this analysis, which we present in the results section, we will try to confirm or refute the hypotheses set out above, for which we make use of the variables described below.

The independent variable is coloured light in class. Based on the aforementioned study by Suh et al. (2020), the coloured light will establish four experimental scenarios: natural light (exclusively natural light, without interference from other light), orange light, green light and violet light (these three mixed with natural light). Suh et al. (2020) justify the use of the three artificial orange-green-violet components as they are very frequent colours in nature. Unlike them, we decided not to completely eliminate the influence of natural light, as research such as Barrett et al. (2015, 2017) supports the combination of natural and artificial light as the optimal classroom situation.

The dependent variables whose influence is measured are: cognitive processes, instrumental learning and affective processes. The approach to these variables is not intended to cover them in their entirety, which is impossible for this work, but is consistent with our exploratory, broad and dispersed nature (Ramírez, 2003). Thus:

V1. Cognitive processes: We will measure three of its dimensions (figurative creativity, net attention and impulsivity control). Kombeiz and Steidle (2018) have conducted a similar study regarding creativity, although with a different approach and way of measurement (see discussion). We obtain figurative creativity through four indicators: originality, elaboration, fluency and flexibility.

V2. Instrumental learning: We will measure in two of its dimensions (written linguistic competence and mathematical competence). The written linguistic competence score is obtained through two indicators: written expression and written comprehension.

V3. Affective processes: We will measure in three of its dimensions (level of liking, level of energy and feelings). The third dimension is nominal but coded to number for statistical analytical treatment.

Aware of the particularity of the social sciences, we do not rule out the presence of extraneous variables. According to Bisquerra-Alzina (2009) we understand that these can influence the results, although they are not a controlled part of the experiment. Isolating such influence is important, but not always possible. In our approach, we have detected some of them, such as the fact that each class has different students, with different teachers. In addition, although we have not carried out a pre-test or post-test due to time constraints, we do have data on the different average academic levels of each group in relation to the instrumental areas and prior to the experimentation. Another possible extraneous variable is the design of the experimental group as incompletely counterbalanced, dividing it into subgroups that perform different tests each day. In this way, not all subjects perform the same tests with the same scenarios, which could affect the final result. The last two extraneous variables foreseen are the incidence of natural light, which by its very nature is changeable, and absenteeism due to Covid. The study was carried out with sixth grade students. The overview of all variables can be seen in Table 1.


Figure 1. Overall view of the research

Variable type

Variables in this experimental situation

Independent variable scenarios

Dimensions and indicators of some dependent variables

Independent variable

Colour light

Natural light

Orange light

Green light

Purple light


Dependent variables

Cognitive processes


Figurative creativity (indicators: originality, elaboration, fluency, flexibility)


Impulsivity control

Affective processes

Level of satisfaction

Energy level


Instrumental learning

Written linguistic competence (indicators: written expression, reading comprehension)

Mathematical competence

Odd variables

Different teachers in different classes

Different students in different classes

Different previous levels

Changing natural light

Absenteeism aggravated by COVID situation

Different pupil in incomplete counterbalanced design



Table 1. Complete view of variables, dimensions and indicators

Regarding the incomplete counterbalanced design subdividing the experimental group into four internal subgroups, with each subgroup performing one of the test-tests on each test day (light scenario), it was necessary to avoid:

  • Incidence of the memory or learning effect (Chacón-Moscoso & Sanduvete-Chávez, 2018): If the same subjects performed the same tests on nearby days, this effect would make the results of the latter scenarios better than those of the first days. 

  • Excessive duration: The tests are designed to take an actual average of 45 minutes. If all students in the experimental group (25 students) were to take all the tests in all the scenarios, we would have to spend 16 evaluation moments. Since each data collection is done on a weekly basis (to avoid motivation effect) this would mean 16 weeks, which is too long for the school and the students. 

Thus, at the end of four weeks all subgroups have taken all the tests, but not all have taken them in the same lighting conditions (Figure 2). This causes the value of “n” in each scenario to drop. Therefore, according to Cuestas (2010) we cannot speak of a cross-case design (the comparisons are not exactly intrasubject) but of an incomplete counterbalanced design (Barroso, 2015).

Our design includes a control group, although this is neither necessary nor usual in a counterbalanced design. Given the exploratory character, the control group allows for comparative analyses that not have been possible otherwise, adding relevant improvements to the study. In order not to increase the expected extraneous variables, the control group performs the same incomplete counterbalanced design described above, on the same days and at the same time as the experimental group, the teachers having received the same exhaustive oral and written instructions. The test-tests are carried out every Friday in March 2021 at 10:00h. The aim is also to avoid the Hawthorne motivation effect in the experimental group by exposing them to coloured light for one hour on each of the four days prior to the test-test each week, inspired by Suh et al. (2020).