Do Flexible Classrooms Really Work?

The factors that influence student learning are diverse, but one that has gained interest in recent years is the use of flexible classrooms.  A 2016 study by Steelcase Education showed that student engagement and learning significantly increased when the classroom environment is not the traditional row by row structure.

The thought that students learn better in an environment where they can control where they sit, with the freedom to move around as they wish, causes them to stay involved in the learning experience.  Think of it as a coffee shop style community where the students are collaborating and discussing what they are reading or learning.

Many educators see this as a logical shift along with fewer blackboards and more whiteboards, and physical textbooks replaced by iPads.  Standing desks have replaced the traditional desk.  But, this type of seating has definite pros and cons.


  1. Flexible seating gives students a choice. The idea that having some control over the environment promotes ownership of learning drives this seating plan.
  2. It promotes community and collaboration, which in turn improves and facilitates the learning process.
  3. Flexible seating reflects real life—almost no other institution utilizes row by row seating.
  4. This seating is more comfortable and allows for natural movement, which students need from time to time to stay engaged.
  5. The seating can be of different styles, with some high, some medium height and some low and on the floor.


  1. While the students are typically encouraged to sit in a different seat each day, they can often become very territorial of the seats they like the best. This requires the teacher to make seating changes.
  2. When students are “in charge” of the classroom, the focus is off the teacher and can require more redirection from the teacher. Ultimately, it can be hard to teach effectively because of the need to redirect more often.
  3. As students get older, it becomes more difficult to monitor tests and assignments for cheating because of the diverse seating.
  4. Students do not pay attention as closely.
  5. If students are already sleepy, sitting in a recliner or other cushy seat only encourages drifting off.

Flexible seating can work for many classrooms, but the teacher must understand that it is more complex than it seems.  While it clearly has beneficial characteristics to enhance and foster a learning environment, the drawbacks need attention.

The age of students seems integral to success, as does the teacher’s classroom management skills and experience. Obviously, the change in furniture requires budget money which may be hard to come by. And, sometimes they have to convince the principal to let them try this new seating arrangement.

Improved student morale and interest in the material certainly warrants a closer look at implementing flexible seating in the classroom. Collaboration and community are worthy goals for an educational environment, and these are the features many teachers are striving toward.  If flexible seating truly contributes to increased learning, then it seems only logical to give the arrangement a try.


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