Does where you study matter?
In today’s fast-paced world, working learners often have to take study time whenever — and wherever — they can get it. But does where you study affect your ability to learn? Can choosing the “wrong” place for doing your studying and schoolwork actually cause you to do worse in school — and vice versa? We spoke with some psychologists, instructors and students for perspective.
Synovia Dover-Harris, MBA, is a University of Phoenix faculty member as well as a current doctoral student at Columbia Southern University. Dover-Harris teaches a variety of courses at University of Phoenix, including Critical/Creative Thinking, Introduction to University Studies, and Skills for Learning in the Information Age. “I believe where you study is very important, but where you choose to study best also just depends on your particular learning style,” she says. “Everyone learns differently, and because of that, everyone has to figure out where they study best as individuals.”
Dover-Harris spends time teaching her students about different learning styles in her courses at University of Phoenix. “Nobody learns the same way,” she says. “Once you understand how you learn, then you’ll learn how to study.”
Dover-Harris also offers some tips to her students based on her own experience as a current doctoral student. “For me personally, I do not like a lot of noise or chaos going on around me when I study because of my inability to concentrate when I am being ambushed with noise,” she says. “For some other people, including some of my friends as well as my own students, they are not able to study or concentrate in complete quiet. Their brains need some kind of background stimulation in order to learn effectively.”
Everyone learns differently, and because of that, everyone has to figure out where they study best as individuals.
Ruth M. Geiman, Ph,D is Product Director at the University of Phoenix Center for Mathematics Excellence, and she believes students should pay close attention to their impromptu study spaces and then choose study locations accordingly. “Each person has a best place to study,” she says. “Some people are energized by having activity around them, others need total quiet. Some people like to have everything neat, others like to spread everything out around them. Watch yourself and see what works best for you.”
Diane Lang, MA, is a New Jersey-based psychotherapist and educator who has taught college courses both online and in traditional classroom settings, and she agrees that different learning styles require different study settings. “Some students actually need sound in the background to study, while others need complete silence,” she says. “It’s about knowing your strengths and using them to learn better. For example, if someone is very extroverted and has strong interpersonal skills, they tend to learn better in groups.”
Lang uses a personality test based on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory to assess her students’ learning styles and then makes study recommendations for them based on it. Lang also emphasizes that it is important to have work-life balance, plenty of rest and some non-studying “down” time in order to make the most of your study time. “Sleep is very important. If you become sleep-deprived, you will not be able to concentrate,” she says. “Do difficult tasks in small blocks of time. Take breaks.” She also recommends having a study partner and/or studying in small groups, which can help with motivation.
Patricia Thompson, PhD, is an Atlanta-based clinical psychologist who has also taught courses at the university level, and she agrees that the best place to study really depends on the individual. “I don’t think there is any ‘best’ place to study,” she says. “People vary in the amount of stimulation they need, that’s why some people study best in the privacy of their room, others in a library, others in a coffee shop. One caveat to studying in groups — make sure your study partner is committed to doing well academically. Just as a lazy workout partner can reduce your level of motivation, so too can a lazy study partner.”
Whatever your personal learning style, studying takes commitment, focus and discipline. Once you know how you study best, choose a study location and program that works for you, and stick to it for academic success.