Education Classroom Learning Environments: Assessing and Investigating the Learning Environment
Barry Fraser
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0287


Educators, students, and parents often speak about the environment or climate of classrooms and schools because they consider it important in its own right and influential for achieving various educational goals. However, it is rare for educators to include the learning environment in their evaluation procedures, whereas they focus almost exclusively on narrow achievement criteria. Although the learning environment is a subtle concept, the literature cited in this article charts remarkable progress since the 1960s in conceptualizing, assessing, researching, and changing it. Progress and internationalization in the field of learning environment over the past several decades has been facilitated considerably by Learning Environments Research: An International Journal, which began in 1998 and remains the only journal devoted exclusively to this topic. Following a section covering important reviews/overviews of the field, this article is divided into four significant topics that dominate the literature on learning environments. First, the field is rich in terms of economical, valid, and widely used instruments for assessing learning environments. Second, learning-environment assessments frequently have been used as criteria of effectiveness in the evaluation of educational programs and instructional methods, with indicators of classroom climate often differentiating revealingly between educational alternatives even when a variety of outcome measures do not. Third, the most common line of past learning-environment research has been relationships between the learning environment and student outcomes, which consistently suggests that creating positive classroom/school climates improves student outcomes. Fourth, educators have found it useful to use feedback based on their students’ perceptions of actual and preferred climate in action research aimed at improving learning environments.

General Overviews

Reviews in Fraser 1986, Fraser 2012, and Zandvliet and Fraser 2018 trace the history, evolution, and trends in the field of learning environments over several decades. These reviews identify the field’s major thrusts that form the basis for organizing the four sections that follow: assessing learning environments, evaluation of educational programs, associations between learning environments and student outcomes, and improving learning environments. Alansari and Rubie-Davies 2020 provides a fifty-year overview of the limited literature on tertiary learning environments. Den Brok, et al. 2018 identifies developments in quantitative methods and data analysis in the field since the late 20th century. Wubbels and Levy 1993 overviews early work on interpersonal relationships (or teacher interactions) as a key aspect of classroom environment, whereas Zandvliet, et al. 2014 updates theoretical developments and new research on interpersonal relationships. Thapa, et al. 2013 specifically reviews school climate literature, while Cleveland and Fisher 2013 critically reviews emerging interest in physical aspects of the environment of schools and universities. The expansion and international spread of the field of learning environments have been greatly facilitated by Springer Nature’s Learning Environments Research: An International Journal, which began in 1998 and remains the only journal devoted exclusively to learning environments.

  • Alansari, M., and C. Rubie-Davies. 2020. What about tertiary climate? Reflecting on five decades of class climate research. Learning Environments Research 23.1: 1–25.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10984-019-09288-9

    Because of an underrepresentation of past learning-environments research and reviews at the tertiary (or higher-education) level, this fifty-year review was undertaken to reveal a paucity of qualitative studies and research into outcome-environment associations.

  • Cleveland, B., and K. Fisher. 2013. The evaluation of physical learning environments: A critical review of the literature. Learning Environments Research 17.1: 1–28.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10984-013-9149-3

    In contrast to a majority of literature that focuses on the psychosocial learning environment, this article reviews the physical environment of schools and universities and methods for postoccupancy evaluation of physical learning spaces.

  • den Brok, P., T. Mainhard, and T. Wubbels. 2018. Developments in quantitative methods and analyses for studying learning environments. In Thirty years of learning environments. Edited by D. B. Zandvliet and B. J. Fraser, 41–58. Advances in Learning Environments Research. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill | Sense.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004387720_003

    This review shows that over the previous several decades, quantitative methods have evolved from correlational and variance-analysis approaches to more model-testing, confirmatory, and multilevel techniques.

  • Fraser, B. J. 1986. Classroom environment. London: Croom Helm.

    First book on field of classroom learning environment. Reviews history of field, research methods, questionnaires developed/validated, and major lines of past research (evaluation of educational programs, association between student outcomes and classroom climate, teachers’ practical attempts to improve classroom climates) up until 1986. Republished in 2012 (New York: Routledge).

  • Fraser, B. J. 2012. Classroom learning environments: Retrospect, context and prospect. In Second international handbook of science education. Edited by B. J. Fraser, K. G. Tobin, and C. J. McRobbie, 1191–1239. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-9041-7_79

    Comprehensively reviews the remarkable expansion and internationalization of the field of learning environments since publication of the book Classroom Environment in 1986, including assessment instruments and both researcher and practitioner applications.

  • Learning Environments Research: An International Journal.

    This Springer Nature journal began in 1998 and still is the only journal dedicated exclusively to the field of learning environments.

  • Thapa, A., J. Cohen, S. Guffey, and A. Higgins-D’Alessandro. 2013. A review of school climate. Review of Educational Research 83.3: 357–385.

    DOI: 10.3102/0034654313483907

    Interest continues to grow in school climate as an evidence-based school improvement strategy. A review of 206 references identified five essential dimensions of school climate: safety, relationships, teaching and learning, institutional environment, and school improvement processes.

  • Wubbels, T., and J. Levy, eds. 1993. Do you know what you look like? Interpersonal relationships in education. London: Falmer.

    Historically important collection of articles that traces programmatic research on the assessment and investigation of teacher-student relationships as an important aspect of the classroom environment. Began in the Netherlands but spread to many other countries.

  • Zandvliet, D., P. den Brok, T. Mainhard, and J. van Tartwijk, eds. 2014. Interpersonal relationships in education: From theory to practice. Advances in Learning Environments Research. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.

    Fourteen chapters based largely on papers presented at the Second International Conference on Interpersonal Relationships in Education in 2012. Offers theoretical advances in the study of interpersonal relationships in education and brings theory and practice together.

  • Zandvliet, D. B., and B. J. Fraser, eds. 2018. Thirty years of learning environments: Looking back and looking forward. Advances in Learning Environments Research. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill | Sense.

    This edited book provides the most recent review of the field and predicts future directions. It celebrates the thirty-year anniversary of the American Educational Research Association’s Special Interest Group (SIG) on Learning Environments.

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