How to Create the Perfect Online Learning Setup
As an online college student, your physical workspace can have a big impact on your educational experience. It’s easy to overlook this physical space when so much of your focus is on adapting to a virtual education. After all, this may be your first time taking asynchronous courses, completing self-paced learning modules, or attending video lectures. In other words, most of your adaptation will take place in virtual space. But your physical space is just as important.
Your immediate surroundings can have a profound impact on your state of mind and your productivity. A study from the Building and Environment Journal reports that
There is clear research evidence that physical work environments (i.e., material spaces and objects) influence ...performance and well-being.
A messy, disordered, or aesthetically displeasing space can lower both your morale and motivation. A tidy, intentionally designed, and stimulating space can improve your energy and efficiency. Naturally, there is more to it than that.
If you are still seeking out the right virtual space for your studies, start with a look at the best online colleges.
Otherwise, read on and see how you can create the perfect online learning setup before diving into your online education.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
Begin by first establishing a workspace that is entirely your own. This should be a place where you can attend classes and study without interruption. We recognize that not every online student is blessed with an abundance of extra space. If your home lacks a natural office, library, or guest room, it may be time to bring some creature comforts to your garage, basement, or attic. You would be amazed what a mop, a space heater and an aging couch can do to create a livable space.
If possible, your designated workspace should be something other than a kitchen or bedroom. You may be tempted to work from your comfy bed but the truth is, merging these spaces will actually erode the quality of both your work and sleep.
The goal is to create a clear separation between the schoolwork portions of your day, and other important portions of your day like family time, work, or personal recreation. Mission number one-find a space, dedicate it entirely to online learning, and make it your own.Back to Top
Tune Out Distractions
Now that you have got a space, get yourself a deadbolt. Just kidding. Hopefully, you do not need a deadbolt. But you do need solitude. Find a place outside the earshot of your beloved but noisy family members. If you have kids, try to establish times when your work space is off limits to them.
The reality is that even minor distractions can completely derail your focus. According to a study by the Michigan State University Psychology Department,
Short interruptions - such as the few seconds it takes to silence that buzzing smartphone - have a surprisingly large effect on one’s ability to accurately complete a task, according to new research led by Michigan State University.
In other words, a split-second disruption can cost you minutes or more. Preempt these distractions as much as possible.Back to Top
Put Your Phone in Another Room
Speaking of preempting distractions, there is no greater distraction than the one that you keep on your person 24/7. Your smartphone is an amazing portal into the universe, which is awesome when you are bored. But it is terrible when you are trying to get work done.
According to Innerdrive,
Research found that UK schools who banned mobile phones saw a 6.4% increase in their students’ grades. Keep this same rule whilst working from home to help reduce a huge potential distraction and keep your focus where it needs to be.
Your phone is a constantly ringing, pinging, dinging, and vibrating time burglar. Put it somewhere else.Back to Top
Get Yourself Connected
While you may be putting your phone elsewhere, you still need to be fully wired at all times. Make sure your workspace has a strong WiFi connection and that you have a suitable setup for your tech. Whether you are using a laptop, or you are anchored to a wall outlet through your PC, make sure you have a desk that comfortably accommodates your machine and any peripherals you might need.
Peripherals might include a scanner/printer, webcam, headphones, bluetooth speakers, and more. Additional items might include wireless mouse and keyboard, surge protectors, external hard drives, and more. And if the location of your workspace results in a shaky WiFi connection, you may need a signal booster.
In addition to getting your tech in order, you need a workspace that accommodates this technology. Things like a solid desk, working outlets, and total connectivity will be essential.Back to Top
Keep a Tidy Space
Everybody works a little differently. If you really feel you work better in chaos and disorder, we are not here to argue. You do you. But for most of us, order and cleanliness are important strategies for minimizing distractions.
According to Innerdrive, a
clean and tidy work environment can boost productivity and help you focus. Put things away after you are done with them to make the tidying process easier. Take a few minutes at the end of each study session to clear your working space to prepare for the following day. This will help clear your mind and reduce stress.
A cluttered and disorderly space can cause the eye to wander in search of distractions. A stack of unopened junk mail, a collection of empty to-go coffee cups, or even an exceptionally dusty lampshade could serve as great excuses to stop working. Eliminate those excuses by keeping your workspace in order.Back to Top
Find the Balance Between Comfort and Practicality
Khan Academy warns that your workspace should be comfortable but not too comfortable. You should be able to comfortably occupy this space for online lectures or long cramming sessions. But it should not be so comfortable that you are tempted to curl up with your textbook and fall asleep.
You can have a nice, ergonomically designed office chair in your workspace. You could even have a small love-seat or sitting nook for those long reading sessions. But we would draw the line at anything on which you could actually stretch out and fall asleep. Make it pleasant, but make sure your work space actually feels like a work space.Back to Top
Consider an Online School Close To Home
This is not technically a recommendation about your workspace. But if all this talk about creating your own fortress of solitude has you feeling a little isolated, you might want to consider an online college closer to home.
While you may be taking most of your courses online, enrolling in an online college in your area can give you access to a campus, a community, and a host of support resources. In other words, this is a way to connect your humble little home workspace with an actual college community. This could give you access to in-person office hours, study group get-togethers, and even campus events like parties, performances, and sporting events. As a bonus, online students also have access to discounted tuition rate when attending public schools in-state.
If you are new to the online college experience, there is no better time to prepare for your online classes than right now. Summer is an especially perfect season to get ready for your online classes so that you can hit the ground running in the fall.
If this sounds like something that might enhance your online experience, visit our Custom College Rankings tool, where you can rank the best online schools using the factors that matter most to you including affordability, study body size, and, of course, location. You can also jump right to a search for the best online schools in your state.
Check out our Blog Page for helpful tips on adjusting to and surviving student life.
Or get valuable study tips, advice on adjusting to campus life, and much more at our student resource homepage.
Student Submitted Questions on Creating the Perfect Online Learning Setup
Stacey asks, “Could you provide recommendations for technology that would enhance the online learning experience?”
Dr. James Barham’s answer: Being technologically ready will set you up for success in your online learning experience. Some of these technologies will be provided by the school, such as a learning management system. Schools typically provide a walk through so that students are prepared to use this technology. Becoming adept with video conferencing tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, will help you tremendously as well. Quizlet, Google Workspace, and Microsoft OneNote are also great learning and productivity tools.
Brad asks, “Is there research to support the claim that physical space impacts learning outcomes?”
Dr. Jed Macosko’s answer: Yes, many educational and environmental psychologists have tested and shown that factors such as lighting, room layout, and decor can have a huge impact on students’ ability to engage with the study material, process information, and focus. To name a few studies, Heschong found that students in classrooms with more natural light scored better on standardized tests that those in classrooms without natural light. A study by Kuller found that color can influence students’ mood and cognitive performance. Lai and MacLean found that ergonomically designed furniture can impact students’ ability to concentration and engage. These are just a few of the many ways our environment shapes how we learn.