When it comes to creating a successful study environment, online learners have more control over where and when they choose to study than a traditional student stuck in a campus classroom.
A recent (and unscientific) survey of online university WGU Texas’ students and graduates indicates that, when it comes to selecting the most productive study spaces, opinions vary depending on the student’s personality, area of study, family dynamics and day job.
We’ve captured their top venues, what makes them best for online learners and, in some cases, why one may work for some and not for others.
1. Home “Sweet” Home
Students who choose to study at home say it saves time and money. With a dedicated Wi-Fi connection, a cozy study nook, home office, kitchen table or front porch, studying from home takes the commute out of the equation and allows students to get right to work—in PJs and fluffy slippers, if preferred.
Not only does studying at home save on transportation costs, but it also provides online learners with ready access to food, water, coffee, bathrooms and more coffee.
“I was often able to do school work between work calls and I generally spent a few hours in the evening on school work,” said Chad Welch, a WGU Texas class of 2014 graduate who used his home office to study.
For some students, though, studying at home doesn’t work well.
Distractions, like noisy roommates, family members, small children, pets, loud music, or simply the temptation to snag a few minutes for a much-needed nap, can add up to a less-than-productive study environment.
Students who don’t study well at home said that much of their study time was spent on taking on house chores, repairing things around the house, or tending to children and partners.
2. Bookstores and Coffee Shops = Caffeine and free Wi-Fi
When home isn’t conducive to studying, some online students prefer to head to their favorite coffee shop. The obvious reasons? Access to caffeine and free Wi-Fi top the list.
If you find a place that serves good, fresh java, has a good Wi-Fi connection and the owner doesn’t mind you staying for a couple of hours, then drop anchor, find a space near an electrical outlet, and fire up the laptop.
While some coffee houses provide more of a social than a study scene, WGU Texas students reported that being surrounded by other students and the smell of fresh brewed coffee aided productivity despite the background noise of humming laptops and conversations.
In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers Ravi Mehta and Amar Cheema demonstrated how moderate levels of ambient noise (70dB), like the ambiance of a coffee house, increases creativity, alertness and the ability to learn. On the flip side, their results also showed that high noise levels (85dB) reduced the extent of information processing and impaired creativity and cognition. It’s all about balance.
The downside to coffee house study sessions? The expense for a cup or two of coffee, and music that is either too loud or the wrong genre.
While familiar music can create associations that help you remember what you’re studying, listening to music with headphones or to music you don’t enjoy can be more of a distraction that leads to decreased information retention.
3. Public Libraries
The best reason to study online in your local public library is mandatory silence. Students who choose this venue report that the peace and quiet makes them more effective and efficient studiers.
Plus, public libraries often offer free access to unlimited and hard-to-find resources, like old newspapers and journals that could make your research paper shine. You even have librarians on hand who can help guide you through the stacks if you need help locating resources.
4. The Great Outdoors
If weather permits, take your laptop or book to a nearby park and get some fresh air while working through reading material. Students report that hearing, feeling and seeing the sounds of nature while studying outdoors is relaxing and offers a great place to study with friends or study group.
The downside can be unreliable or nonexistent Wi-Fi access or nearby power source. Before venturing out, make sure your study load doesn’t require Internet connectivity or power outlet.
Regardless of venue, a successful study session starts with a good Wi-Fi connection, healthy snacks, like fruit and nuts, liquid refreshment, easy access to a restroom and most importantly, turning off the cell phone and other distractions and rewarding yourself with time to text and talk after reaching your study goals.