10/23/2017 19 Comments
How Color Affects Student Learning
We can benefit our students by using color effectively in many different ways:
When we see color we process it in a complex way, involving multiple parts of our brain. According to the Association of Talent Development, neuroscientists discovered that information first goes to a color center in our brains, and from there information moves to other parts of the brain that detect motion, shapes, edges, and transitions; this tells us our response to color is very complicated and significant.
First, how does memory work? Medical Daily states, “When you experience something, this event is converted into a pulse of electrical energy that zips along a network of neurons, according to Young. This information first gets stored in short-term memory, where it's available anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Then, the experience gets transferred to long-term memory areas such as the hippocampus — the center of emotion, memory, and the automatic nervous system — and finally reaching several storage regions across the brain.”
Edynco tells us, color is the most powerful stimulus to our brain. As information enters our brain through our eyes and ears it is stored in sensory memory. We can only pay attention to a small amount of information at once. When something attracts our attention it goes into working memory, or short-term memory, and color is what our brain notices first! According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, information is then moved to long-term memory as a result of various control processes; this depends on the degree attached to a certain stimuli. In short, what we give more attention to is more likely to be stored in long-term memory.
We also know that color aids pattern recognition. The Association for Talent Development states, “In 2002, researchers discovered that subjects performed five to 10 percent better on standardized pattern recognition tests when they were administered in color rather black and white. The effect also boosted memory over time.” This result shows how much benefit color can have in our teaching and standardized test results if we use it to our advantage!
Those in business and marketing would tell you the same thing- there is a strong correlation between what is stored in our memory and color; many advertisements use color to their advantage. For example, many fast-food restaurants use bright, vivid colors in their advertising, like McDonald’s red and yellow, to grab your attention and store in your memory.
So, how can you use color to benefit your students’ learning? You need to take into consideration a couple of different factors, including individual colors, combination of colors, and the results you are trying to achieve.
First, since individual colors elicit different responses, it is important to know these responses. Shift Learning gives helpful explanations of colors and how they enhance learning.
Imagine a lush forest or a beautiful field. Does it give you a brief sense of calmness? Green reminds us of nature, and because of this has a calming effect. Green increases efficiency and focus, and is great for when you need your students to concentrate for a long time.
The color red stimulates the adrenal glands, according to The Association for Talent Development. It can evoke feelings of energy and threat, but has also appears to improve focus and performance.
Orange is a definite mood-lifter! This welcoming color provides comfort and enhances neural functioning.
However, the color orange may be over stimulating for some students; keep this in mind if you have an exceptionally energetic class. So although, orange can be a great color to use, it’s best in small doses!
The color pink promotes calmness and can reduce heart rate.
Contrary to popular belief, blue does not equal sadness! Blue promotes productivity and is best for challenging learning situations. Shift Learning states, “…blue is great for promoting high levels of thought, but too much can create a sense of detachment and coldness.” It is helpful to mix blue with warmer colors.
Typically known as a cheerful color, the color yellow can improve happiness; too much yellow can produce stress, though.
Red vs. Blue
There was a study done at the University of British Columbia, published in Science magazine, to observe how the cognitive performance of participants varied depending on whether they saw red or blue when they performed tasks. “Red groups did better on tests of recall and attention to detail, like remembering words or checking spelling and punctuation. Blue groups did better on tests requiring invention and imagination: coming up with creative uses for a brick or creating toys from collections of shapes.”
Red color should be used when you want to improve memory on completing a task like proofreading. Blue should be used when your students are brainstorming or you want them to think creatively and out-of-the-box.
Another factor that needs to be considered is when multiple colors are involved. When the right combination of colors is used, it can produce higher levels of contrast. It’s important to consider the contrast of colors in your classroom. The background of what students see should contrast with the foreground, or text. If the background and foreground are monochromatic (same color, different hue), then it will not stick as well to your students’ memory.
Teaching tools such as PowerPoint slides, posters, worksheets, etc. should have contrast between the background and foreground, but should also be aesthetically pleasing and easy to look at. A lighter background and darker foreground enhances readability.
Different colors and combinations of colors can have a stronger effect in one area over another area, so it’s important to think about what you are hoping to achieve. For example, Edynco tells us to use warm colors (red, orange, yellow) to stimulate, and cool colors (blue, green, purple) to calm.
You can use coloring as an interactive experience as often as you want in class, but blend colors strategically in visuals or decor, keeping in mind that too many different colors can create chaos and confusion. When used the right way, color can have an immense benefit to your students’ memory and performance!
A great way to get started with incorporating color is to try visual note taking strategies in your classroom. With doodle notes, students can interact with their note pages through doodling, coloring, patterns, embellishments, color coding, and lettering in ways that increase memory. Learn more about how visual notes blend graphics and text to increase student focus, learning, and retention.
Enter your email address for updates, resources, and more:
10/27/2017 07:54:25 pm
Do you have suggestions when there are students in your class that are colorblind? I find this limits my use of color.
10/31/2017 02:05:25 pm
5/4/2022 11:01:02 am
Hello I am doing a project and I have a question, Can the color gray or brown or black affect your math skills?
3/7/2018 07:39:43 pm
I'm dyslectic do you have any good ideas for that
3/9/2018 10:52:50 am
7/13/2018 12:12:46 pm
Is there a particular age or grade that this is most beneficial? Looking at the worksheet images I believe this must be targeted at middle school or older. It would take my third graders so long to switch colors that we wouldn’t get through the material.
7/14/2018 08:03:56 am
8/15/2018 09:45:26 pm
This post was really informative! I'm doing a project for school where I try to create an area that will maximize learning. How could I use colors to help with this?
8/16/2018 07:42:27 am
3/4/2019 10:45:12 am
Hey, I'm studying to be a high school English/ Creative Writing teacher, and this blog helped me so much, despite it being for math. I'm definitely going to be using this when studying or helping other study! Just wanted to say thank you so much for this information and the links you provided!
3/5/2019 12:04:41 pm
5/21/2020 01:37:12 pm
The link to the ednyco.com article on color and memory boosting is broken. Do you have another link to that article?
5/22/2020 10:51:32 am
This is very helpful, thank you! Color coordination in my notes is how I got through college. I'd like to add a tip: for sequential steps, put steps in rainbow order to help you remember the order!
5/23/2020 11:45:15 am
Years ago, I realized highlighting ruined valuable textbooks. I migrated to colored pencils for deep study of physics and mathematics. I settled on RED for figures and table cited in text, GREEN for vocabulary words, BLUE for the real science concept (f=ma), and ORANGE for worked examples. A reasonable approximation to the research!
5/30/2020 02:33:09 pm
9/12/2020 01:54:37 pm
I know this comment is a few years late, but due to the pandemic, I have been homeschooling my son and a friend's daughter. I make them draw colour margins and borders on each page and let them use colour pencils to write their headings, subheadings and titles. Their teachers have a problem with this. I explained to my son's teacher that my reasons are to stimulate their brain development and to teach them to take pride in their work. Do teachers not learn about child psycology and many different techniques to help kids instead of sending them to doctors? I was and am still in shocked at the teachers's comment. Both children have improved tremendously in their schoolwork and cursive skills. Thank you for this article. I will share your insights with the teachers.
9/16/2020 01:13:35 pm
That is wonderful that you are doing this! The color-coding is great for their brain processing.
11/16/2021 01:02:29 am
Hi! I"m currently studying to be a high school math teacher, and I found this blog so interesting and informative! I definitely want to incorporate color strategically into my future classrooms. Do students gain the same benefits by watching you as the teacher take your notes in color, or are they more likely to benefit if they are using the colors themselves? Also is it necessary to use the same colors consistently, or is this something you could do here and there, and could you change what colors you are using without losing benefits?
11/16/2021 10:22:23 am
Leave a Reply.
Click to set custom HTML