A lot of factors impact how effectively you’re studying. Some are obvious, like whether you understand the prerequisite material, or whether you have the appropriate time or resources to study.
Other factors, however, can be much harder to see. For example, are you studying the right material at the right time of day? Biorhythms can have a strong impact on study performance. Or, is there a silent mental health issue at play that just makes everything harder? Even having the right eyeglass prescription can have an impact on studying!
This blog post is about one of those “under the radar” factors that strongly affects quality of studying: the learning space. Where you study, how you match your task to your environment, and how you curate that environment can have a strong positive or negative effect on studying. Let’s go over some tips for how to optimize your learning space.
What Is a Learning Space?
At Signet, we strive to offer valuable strategies for cultivating strong study habits that will carry you through high school and into college. Most of these resources concentrate on how to study, using proven methods and processes to achieve the best results.
That being said, the surrounding environment, or where you study, can play a significant role in study habits too. These environments are your learning spaces, and the effectiveness of these learning spaces can impact your ability to focus, as well as to absorb and retain information.
Most students will spend a majority of their time sitting at a desk inside a classroom, and like it or not, you have very little control over this environment. However, where you and your parents DO have options is in the learning spaces outside of the classroom. This might include the library, the kitchen table, or even the floor of your bedroom. Extracurricular activities and online communities provide learning spaces as well.
Factors to Consider
Parents and students alike should consider several factors when selecting learning spaces outside the classroom. One type of learning space is not necessarily better than another; what matters most is what works for you. Some considerations for selecting a space that supports your learning and development include:
Light: Make sure there is enough light in the space to see without needing to strain your eyes, as this can cause fatigue. Not having enough light in your learning space can also make you sleepy and unfocused. On the other hand, too much light close to bedtime can disrupt sleep patterns, so you’ll want to start shutting down screens and devices an hour before bed if possible.
Nature: A recent study showed that a learning environment with some connection to nature can significantly improve cognitive function. You might choose to study near a window to be able to view some greenery, or you might add a houseplant or two to your desk at home.
Sound: Preferences for sound vary greatly from person to person. Some students work best around background noise, such as in a coffee shop. Others prefer to listen to music, and many find that they can only focus in absolute silence. A good pair of headphones can go a long way toward either canceling noise or providing the kind of background soundscape that helps you focus best. Keep in mind that you may find you prefer a noisier environment for some activities and require dead silence for others, so some exploring and experimenting is necessary.
Distraction: Try to minimize distractions in your study environment. (Tell your family: this does include interruptions from parents or siblings!) Some students prefer to study alone, but others may learn better surrounded by other people. Your smartphone and the internet are major sources of distraction as well. Many students benefit from turning their computers off (when working with textbooks), silencing their phones, and/or deactivating wifi when they get into serious study mode.
Creating Your Ideal Learning Space
We recommend having this conversation with your parents. They may have observed things about your studying style you’ve missed, and they will be able to help you navigate how to create your perfect study space. Here are the steps we recommend:
Identify Preferences: You may already know whether you prefer to sit in a particular room, work outside, or even use a standing desk. If so, great! If not...
Experiment with Different Options: If you aren’t sure whether you prefer silence or background noise, the sofa or the kitchen table, do some experimenting: spend time working in different environments, with different levels of noise, and jot down your reactions.
Alter Current Environments: Based on your own and your parents’ observations, perhaps you can add a green plant to your desk, change the lighting in your room, or create a playlist of “studying music.” Small tweaks to the current environment can make a big difference.
Look for Alternate Locations: If your current learning spaces can’t be altered enough to make them ideal, work with your parents to find a coffee shop, library, or other workspace that is a better learning space for you.
The point of this exploration and conversation is not to come to the "right answer," but to to help you understand that your environment is a component of your learning that you can control. Working to identify how you learn best will improve your educational experience, and will be especially important as you transition from high school to college. College students have far more independence and choice in where and how they learn than high schoolers do. If you already know and are comfortable with the kind of learning space that works best for you, you will find it much easier to maintain focus and continue good study habits throughout your college career.