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Deciding exactly what the most effective classroom seating plan is can cost countless hours of trial and error as a corporate trainer or teacher.

So, in this post, let us try and save you some of the heartache with some ideas and explanations for you, on some of the best classroom seating plans and the pros and cons of each.

Advice on the best and most effective classroom seating plans for engaging students in training sessions. Corporate and classroom layout planning.
Most effective classroom seating plans

How to lay out the training room in terms of seating arrangements is not as straight forward as one might at first assume.

In so many classrooms, there is the traditional design whereby lines of chairs face the front of the classroom, where the teacher stands and gives the lesson from.

Classroom seating option – Image attribution: Mummelgrummel

In corporate training and other similar training sessions and days though, there is a need to try and offer more dynamic approaches to pedagogy (teaching methods) and the seating plan needs consideration.

The seating plan does, of course, depend in part on if the chairs and seats are movable but often you may have a choice of the training room, so here below is some guidance on the seating options you have.

Lecture Theatre Seating Plan

Example of a lecture theater seating plan
Lecture theater seating plan style

The traditional and commonly designed classroom or training room will have rows of seats facing the front of the room, where the whiteboard or projector screen will be positioned.

Most of us will be familiar with this style layout from school, college or university.

In a university lecture theatre, the seating is normally such that other people have to stand up to let you exit if you are in the middle of the row.

This is because a traditional lecture theatre contains tiered seats, with a fixed and continuous writing tablet in each row. As a result, it can be difficult to carry out group activities or ask learners to move around with this seating arrangement.

If you are holding a training session that involves a large number of delegates, then using a theatre teaching room can be a good idea because you can normally accommodate a lot of people in the same room.

If the training is largely theoretical and mostly trainer or teacher led, then this type of room might suffice.

One way to make interaction easier between learners so they can work in groups, is to ask some of them to turn around and form a group with the participants who are sat behind them. In this way, it is possible for participants to work in groups more easily without needing to stand up.

Classic Classroom Seating Plan

The classroom style tends to have more flexible seating than a lecture theatre in that the chairs and desks can normally be moved around. Thus, there is much greater freedom for participants to move and form small groups and seat comfortably in these groups.

For training that is interactive, as your training most likely will be, the classroom format is likely to be preferable to the theatre style.

Boardroom Seating Plan

Boardroom seating
Boardroom style training seating plan

The boardroom style seating arrangement is where you have a rectangular shaped set of desks and chairs. So, everyone is facing each other, given that participants sit on the outside of the desks looking inwards and facing others.

This style of seating can be useful in that it is effective for when delegates need to discuss scenarios as a group. This can be an especially good layout for training that involves brain storming and team building.

Classroom style seating with rows of seating behind each other.

U-Shape Seating Plan

A U-shaped seating plan can be an excellent option whereby the trainer stands at the top of the U shape, i.e. at the top of the semi-circle and trains participants in what tends to be an informal layout. In this layout, there is no barrier between the participants and the trainer with no desks in between them.

This less formal seating plan can be more inviting for participants to open up and become involved in discussions.

This layout also means the participants are never that far away from each other and the trainer. The boardroom style instead can mean that people on the end of the rectangular layout might sometimes not see all other participants and sometimes find it harder to hear.

Cluster Seating Plan

This is the type of layout that is the most appropriate if you want your participants to be able to work in groups comfortably. This layout makes it also easy for participants to move around and switch groups.

The cluster seating plan consists in small tables dotted around the room, with small groups of 4 to 6 participants sat around each table.

We find that this is the layout that creates the most relaxed atmosphere, which is great for cooperation and interaction between participants.

The main downside though, is that some participants may not be able to see the trainer when s/he stands at the front of the room, unless they turn around.

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Conclusions

Whilst there is research that suggests that flexible seating plans are productive in terms of learning, for corporate training, it is really up to you.

Consider what the topic is and which training package you are going to use and then choose the seating plan that best suits the style of training you are providing.

The U-shape or circular seating plan is the one we have most often used but it really depends on the number of people being trained and the nature of the course being taught.

If you have any opinions on this we would love to get your feedback in the comments below!

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Paul Symonds PhD

Paul is a trained researcher with a PhD in wayfinding. Paul is a co-founder of Symonds training. We focus on providing high-quality training materials packages and programs for trainers, classroom teachers and HR departments.

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