Classroom acoustics are often overlooked when educators think of ways to improve the classroom. However, only about 10% to 30% of classrooms meet the current standards for listening, which introduces a slew of hurdles for educators to overcome when trying to help students learn at school.

“only about 10% to 30% of classrooms meet the current standards for listening,”

Poor classroom acoustics leads to easily misunderstanding instructions, important school information, and cognitive fatigue. The impact of these difficulties on students greatly increases when we realize that children spend up to 70% of their school day listening to instructors and peers, and there is a large risk of students being unable to understand content that educators are providing during school hours. The consequences of missing out on material is similar to not attending class at all -- unable to fully understand the concepts, students are at risk of not being able to finish their homework properly, or feel discouraged participating in classroom discussions. Ultimately, this risk could even lead to failing a grade.

Despite the fact that our ears can pick up noise without much problem, our brains do not always process all of these words—in classrooms, this means that just because students can hear, it might not mean that they fully understand. Audiology’s article on children’s hearing in the classroom separates differences between hearing, listening, and understanding with important definitions as outlined below:

“Hearing means you are aware of the presence of sound. Listening is an active activity where you have to put forth some work to register the information. Understanding means having a sufficient language and knowledge foundation to be able to follow what is said.”

In terms of optimal learning in the classroom, the goal is to deliver content in a format that students will not just hear, but understand, which requires clear communication. Poor sound quality in the classroom greatly hinders students’ ability to understand instructions and information, and when information is difficult to understand, some students may find themselves giving up, or caring less about the content. The bottom line is that unclear audio can make listening feel like a chore—and in a learning environment, students should be engaged and excited about everything they hear in the classroom.