How To Optimize Your Learning Environment
Whether you do all your studying from home as an online student or you just need some tips to make the most of your time outside the classroom, here are five of the best ways to optimize your learning environment for better results.
- Mix it up.
Although it might seem contradictory to what you've been taught your whole life, one of the best ways to make new information stick is to study in a variety of locations. Why? According to research led by Dr. Robert A. Bjork of UCLA along with Steven M. Smith from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the brain makes subconscious associations between our study materials and the background sensations we experience while we’re studying. With this in mind, studying in different locations can help the brain to make multiple associations with the same material, and this helps us remember it more easily later on.
- Choose lighting carefully.
Even something as simple as the type of lighting present in your learning environment could enhance or hinder your performance. Although you’re probably aware that having plenty of good lighting is an important study requirement, research shows that our reaction to natural lighting is very different to that of artificial lighting. Research into the impact of light on humans led by neuroscientist Mirjam Munch shows that artificial light makes us drowsy, while daylight helps us feel more alert. So while studying, an outdoor area or room with larger windows should help you kick off any sleepiness and stay focused. If natural light isn't an option, such as during wintertime when there are fewer hours of daylight, using brighter lights can still improve your performance. For instance, researchers in Vienna, Austria, found that children who studied in classrooms with enhanced lighting (500 Lux) performed better on writing, reading, and mathematics exercises than those with standard lighting (300 Lux).
- Pay attention to your body temperature.
Although it’s nice to take your learning to the park every now and then to enjoy the benefits of all that natural daylight, if it’s chilly outside you’re probably better off staying indoors. Researchers have found that when our body temperature drops below a certain level, we expend more energy to stay warm, which leaves less energy for concentration and hinders our productivity. A study from Cornell University showed that when temperatures were around 68°F (20°C) people made 44% more errors and were less than half as productive as when the temperatures were 77°F (25°C). Of course, being too warm isn't good either as it can cause you to feel drowsy. Things get a little confusing when you consider another study by researchers in Helsinki, Finland, which found that people were more productive in cooler temperatures of around 71.6°F (22°C). Considering the conflicting results of these two studies, perhaps the real solution is to simply pay attention to your body temperature and make sure you’re neither too hot nor too cold during your study sessions.
- Match your study environment to the exam environment.
Although you've probably been told countless times that you need a peace and quiet learning environment in order to study effectively, the truth is that it doesn't matter all that much if your study environment is noisy or quiet. The most important thing is that it matches the environment you’ll be tested in. In one study, Iowa State University researchers asked students to read a two-page article in either a quiet or noisy environment. After doing this, they were all tested on what they had read, but some students were tested in an environment that matched the one they had studied in, while others were tested in a mismatching environment. As you might have guessed, the students from the noisy environment performed just as well, as long as they were also tested in a noisy environment. Of course, most tests and exams take place in relatively quiet environments, but for students take online courses and do both their studying and testing from home, matching the study environment to the testing environment could be useful.
- Consider both the pros and cons of clutter.
Students are usually advised to study in a tidy environment that is free of clutter, and there is certainly some evidence to suggest that this approach is a good one. A study led by Harvard researchers showed that when people had been exposed to a neat environment they were more persistent when undertaking a challenging task than those who had been exposed to a messy space. However, research published in Psychological Science found that people tend to be more creative in a cluttered environment. So on the one hand, clutter may hinder your persistence, but on the other, it could also help your creativity flourish.Before deciding whether or not to de-clutter your study environment, ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. For certain tasks, creativity won’t necessarily be a requirement, but if you’re brainstorming ideas, that messy room at the back of your home could be exactly what you need.