By Karen Ferguson, PhD
If you are making the transition from face-to-face classes to online learning, one of the most important things you can do is create a “space” for learning. If you are used to a schedule with classes on different days and on different areas of the campus, a physical library, and other social spaces, the transition to fully online may feel overwhelming. The separation of your learning spaces, social spaces, and perhaps even your working space no longer exists. In fact, everything may be on your phone. This level of full digital integration can make studying and staying focused difficult. Creating the right study space can go a long way towards making this transition easier.
Research supports the use of dedicated study spaces, and the design of those spaces can go a long way to improve learning and recall. This level of intentionality is even more important if you are learning fully online. Creating the right space for you will not only help you learn better, but it will reduce stress and support your ability to create balance and boundaries. While everyone’s preference, and access to space, is a little different, the strategies below will help create the right environment to support your learning.
- Choose a space and make it yours
Identify one room, or one area in a room for your study space. Having a dedicated space allows you to create a positive learning environment and the more you use it the more your brain will catch on that this is where you learn. Overtime, making the transition from what you were doing to studying will become easier and faster. Creating this space and using it regularly will help you stay focused on learning and improve your ability to retain information.
- Minimize or identify your distractions.
We all have different comfort levels with distractions. Some people enjoy ambient noise (like at a coffee shop or library). Others require complete silence in order to focus. Whatever your preferences may be, do your best to recreate them in your learning space. If you enjoy ambient noise, turn on some calming music or download an ambient noise app. If you prefer complete quiet, then you’ll want to turn off all distractions, including your phone. If you are sharing space with others and can’t get enough quiet you can try using a white noise machine or adding texture to your space to help absorb some of the noise.
- Incorporate natural light.
Humans love natural light. While looking towards a window may cause eyes strain, incorporating natural light can help improve your mood and your ability to focus. Too much fluorescent light can cause eye strain and too much blue light can mess with your natural rhythms. Natural light can bring in positive energy, make it easier to read, and overall improve your mood. If your space is not near a window, use natural light light bulbs in your lamps.
- Keep it clean.
An organized space is a good space. You will surely make a mess during your studies as you take notes, reference resources, and work to complete your assignments. However,
at the end of every session, do your best to reorganize your space. Use desktop organizers or wall calendars to organize your physical space. Similarly, you want to keep your digital space organized. There are many tools to help you keep your desktop organized. You can organize your files by course or subject and use free tools like sticky-note apps or digital organizers and project management software. Whether you are walking up to your desk or logging on to your computer, you want to feel welcomed – not overwhelmed. Keeping it clean will help you stay disciplined and focused.
- Get Comfortable
If you were used to sitting in a lecture for 50 minutes to an hour then moving on to your next course, you might not have ever really considered your comfort level. Now that you may be in front of your computer screen for hours on end, comfort is key and ergonomics matter. Too cold? Too hot? Can’t focus! If you aren’t comfortable, you won’t be able to focus for very long. Find the right temperature for you and do you best to control the temperature throughout your study time. Take some time to adjust your monitors and your seat height as well. Goldilox knew what she was doing – your space needs to be “just right”.
- Accessorize and Personalize
Create a space that you want to enter – that makes you feel good when you sit down. While you don’t want to overdo it and create clutter, a well-placed plant, candle, lamp, painting, diffuser, or motivational quote can set the stage for a positive learning environment.
I’m a firm believer in intentionality. If you want to be successful and are willing to do the planning and the work, you will be successful. If you are going to go to college, then plan for your success…including when and where you will study.
About Karen: Dr. Karen Ferguson is the Provost at Salem University. A non-traditional adult student herself, Karen is dedicated to supporting student success and believes we can all learn, improve, and grow.