In a 21st century classroom, having mobile classroom furniture with the ability to arrange and rearrange desks, tables and chairs is critically important when it comes to creating an effective collaborative learning environment.

students collaborating mobile

While traditional classroom furniture and teaching models are still popular, many school districts are making the shift toward collaborative learning environments and mobile classroom furniture.

Why the shift? First, research studies show that collaborative learning environments increase retention by giving students more time to think about, talk about and process information. In addition, collaborative learning environments promote greater student-to-faculty and student-to-student interaction, encourage students to be the leaders of their education and facilitate the development of 21st century skills.

What Do Students Want?

mobile furniture

Smith System Interchange Diamond Desks with Flavors Mobile Seating.

The capabilities of classroom furniture can have a big impact on learning outcomes. The ability to easily arrange and rearrange classroom furniture can dictate students’ ability to fully immerse themselves in learning 21st century skills and educators’ ability to immerse themselves in teaching them. In their research study, “Classroom Seating Considerations for 21st Century Students and Faculty”, published in the Journal of Learning Spaces, authors Eugene J. Harvey and Melaine C. Kenyon note that:

Learning environments symbolize an institution’s vision of educational philosophy…If left ignored or left unchecked, these spaces become misaligned to student and faculty expectations, resulting in, minimally, frustration with classroom spaces while, at worst, posing as true barriers and impediments to learning and teaching.

Harvey and Kenyon’s research study examined the preferences of students and faculty when it comes to both seating styles and seating configurations.

Five total seating styles were selected for the study, including:

Modern mobile chairs with wheels
Traditional tablet arm chairs
Rectangle tables with standard chairs
Trapezoid tables with chairs on casters
Fixed tiered seating with tablet arms

Their hypothesis was that the modern mobile chair, which “seemed to possess design characteristics valuable to the expectations of today’s student and faculty, would score significantly higher than the other seating styles.”

For Students, Mobility Matters

mobile classroom furniture

Flavors Mobile Chair in Burgundy. This four position stack chair allows students to comfortably sit front, back and side-to-side.

In the end, Harvey and Kenyon’s hypothesis was correct: students were more satisfied with the modern mobile chair than any other seating style with the exception of trapezoid tables with chairs on casters, which students enjoyed just as much. Students found mobile seating to be more accommodating both physically and academically.

In addition, the 21st century seating had space for students’ personal belongings and they felt more physically comfortable in seats they described as “non-restrictive.” Perhaps the most relevant finding is that mobility was the overarching design characteristic of “clear importance” to students in the study, specifically because it allowed them to collaborate and work with one another more easily and offered non-restrictive access. In some ways, introducing mobility into the classroom environment helped enable 21st century learning.

Harvey and Kenyon offer their observations on this point:

Casters enable mobility for quick, easy transitions between various modes of teaching, learning, and task, and mobility, too, might ensure a sense of flexibility within the classroom space…Even the personal work surfaces for each of the seating styles are moveable–the modern mobile chair via its swivel arm, and the trapezoid table via its casters. Mobility fosters interactivity as well.


Smith System’s mobile classroom furniture options are endless.
Our Regional Sales team can help guide you in furniture selection.

classroom environments

The Challenge with Non-Mobile Furniture

As for the non-mobile furniture, students found the different types “less than comfortable” for a variety of reasons. First, traditional tablet arm chairs and fixed tiered seating lacked adequate physical sitting space and were “uncomfortable for people of above average height or girth.” For these students, these restrictive seats were “uncomfortable physically.”

Second, students found that that traditional seating options either lacked movable workspace, or simply didn’t provide enough workspace for both technological and educational materials. In a world where an increasing amount students are given laptops, tablets and other electronic devices to supplement learning, more work space is required.

Students found that tablet arm chairs were extremely difficult to move around for group work because typically, those types of chairs are “constructed of metal and thick, hard plastic materials to maintain durability.” The rectangle tables and chairs provided slightly more workspace, however, the narrow depth of the tables prevented students from sitting across from each other.

Moreover, the rectangle tables and chairs were “not easily changeable or reconfigurable due to the length of the tables, the lack of casters on both tables and chairs and their weight.


A Foundation for the Future of 21st Century Classroom Design

Overall, the data from Harvey and Kenyon’s study show how much of an impact mobility has on student learning, specifically, students’ ability to collaborate, store their belongings and feel physically comfortable while seated. It also shows that, for a multitude of reasons, students actually do prefer mobile seating over non-mobile seating when presented with a choice.

mobile furniture rollerThe modern-mobile chair, tables, and chairs on casters make it much easier for students to move around, communicate with one another, use technology and feel comfortable in class. Mobile classroom furniture comes in far more than just two shapes and sizes.

Some mobile-seats feature only two wheels, which means that in order to be moved, students must lift one side to engage the wheels. However, other types of mobile school seating feature a four-wheeled, allowing chairs to be rolled or slid around the classroom. In addition to seating, Smith System offers desks in a variety of shapes and sizes other than rectangles.

It’s important to note that traditional seating and school furniture does not prohibit collaboration or communication, rather, it makes each action more challenging to accomplish and, may lead to the establishment of both learning and teaching norms that are not aligned with the 21st century learning philosophy.

Replacing traditional school furniture with mobile classroom furniture is only one part of the equation when it comes to creating an effective 21st century classroom. In addition to choosing the right furnishings, a commitment to 21st century curriculum guidelines and teaching styles is also necessary to facilitate true 21st century learning.


Works Cited
-Bradley, Laura. “Collaboration on Wheels: 21st Century Classroom Furniture at Work.” Edutopia. Edutopia, 9 Mar. 2015. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.

Kenyon, Melaine, and Eugene Harvey. “Classroom Seating Considerations for 21st Century Students and Faculty | Harvey | Journal of Learning Spaces.” Classroom Seating

Considerations for 21st Century Students and Faculty | Harvey | Journal of Learning Spaces. Journal of Learning Spaces, 2013. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.
“Active Learning Spaces.” Coalesse. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.

“Rethinking the Classroom: Spaces Designed for Active and Engaged Learning and Teaching.” Rethinking the Classroom – Research – Herman Miller. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.