How Does Colour Affect Learning?

Something that is often overlooked when creating learning resources for children, is the colour of printed materials. But why does colour matter when it comes to learning? This article will look at the impact that colour has on attention and memory in older children.

Secondary school children are expected to do large amounts of reading throughout the day, at an age where the outside world has much more interesting things to offer. Can we use colour to help them to be more actively interested in what they are reading and actually remember it? Studies show that colour can help increase concentration, cognitive ability, and help with memory recall. So, let’s look at this in a bit more depth.

The history of colour

The relationship between colour and learning is something that has been widely written about and studies have shown that it does matter which colours are used in reading materials. In fact, the benefits of colour have been known from as early as 2000 BC, when it was used in healing and medicine. Around 350 BC the Greek philosopher Aristotle developed the first theory of colour, teaching his followers that it was sent from God in heaven in celestial rays of light. In the 1660s these widely held views were revolutionised by the emergence of Newton’s Rainbow. Using sunlight and prisms, Newton was able to scientifically prove that white light was composed of seven visible colours – the visible spectrum.

In 1722 Le Bon was the first person to develop the three-colour printing system, where primary colours are mixed to form secondary colours for printing. This process was the first to make the distinction between the additive and subtractive colour systems. The additive colour systems emit light (such as a rainbow or TV) but a subtractive colour is a chemical composition and either absorbs or reflects light as a colour (such as the printing in a book).

How colour helps learning

Therefore, when we look at the theories of colour and learning, what we are actually studying is the effect that different subtractive colours have on the readers ability to digest the information written. But why are some colours easier to read, or have a different effect on our brains?

Colour theory states that red, orange and yellow are more attention-grabbing than other colours, and so are more easily remembered. Blue has been shown to increase calmness and creativity, and so this is a better colour to enhance concentration. The key is to gain the child’s attention without overloading the working memory. A study published on the Malaysian Journal of Public Sciences focused on the relationship between colours, attention, and memory focus, found that:

“Colours can influence the level of attention and also give rise to emotional arousal which contributes to control processes that will later enhance memory performance…….. Colour has been found to influence memory performance by increasing our attentional level and arousal…

For example, McDonalds used yellow and red colour in the logo, while Kentucky Fried Chicken is remembered with red and white colour combinations. Colour therefore played a very important role in influencing consumers psychologically, which is characterized by emotional attachment, attention, memory, and attitude that later increase the likelihood of buying behavior.”

Colours have an emotional affect on us all and evoke different feelings within us. If we can tap into what our students need to feel in order to learn successfully, we can adapt our learning resources accordingly. We can take into account factors such as text colour, highlighting and the colour of the pages that materials are printed on.

Colour print on white paper
Coloured planner print on white paper

Colour Blindness and SEN

However, it is important to remember that we do not all see colours in the same way. Children with colour vision deficiency (CVD) or colour-blindness as it is commonly known, have difficulty seeing red and green. Some CVD children cannot see blue and yellow, and some see no colour at all. CVD children often work better with a strong contrast in printed materials, such as black and white. Our planner pages are tailored to your school’s needs, and we can accommodate for CVD and SEN children. Children with ASD (Autism spectrum disorder) have been shown to prefer colours such a pale pink for learning. Typically, children on the spectrum are highly visual learners, which means that using colour in their planner pages can be enormously helpful. ASD children are easily over-stimulated and so calming colours are very important.

Black and white planner print on coloured paper.

At the School Planner Company, we are able to adapt to whatever you need within your school setting. Use colour print to make your custom reference pages clearer and easier to understand. Headings become more readable in colour with brighter text highlighting important sections. Imagery in content pages can be in full colour to create engaging illustrations. To get started, request your free planner sample and information pack today. Already use planners? Refresh your planners with full colour print and fully customised pages throughout for the same price as black and white. Call us on 01480 410432 to find out more.