With Wifi and 5G available almost everywhere we go, online learning is easier than ever.
We can take an online course in a coffee shop, watch an educational video on a crowded bus, and even complete a graded assessment from under the covers in bed. But does our physical environment make a difference to the way we learn? Are some locations more suitable for learning than others? Is there such a thing as a perfect environment for online learning?
There are countless environmental factors that can affect a person’s ability to retain and apply new information. Four factors that make a statistically significant difference in students’ academic performance are noise, lighting, temperature, and air quality.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, noise makes a huge difference to a student’s ability to learn. We’ve all been in situations where we were trying to concentrate on a task but kept getting distracted by a neighbor’s music or a noisy radiator. According to the WHO, reading comprehension, memory, and standardized test scores are all negatively affected by background noise.
Although noise isn’t always something we have much control over, especially when we’re learning in public, there are a few ways to reduce its effects on our learning. Noise canceling headphones can quiet our surroundings and help us focus. Some studies have suggested that listening to white noise can improve learning and memory outcomes. If you’re learning from a home office, you might want to consider placing soft fabrics in the space, like a rug or blankets, to help muffle any external noise pollution.
Have you ever left a dark movie theater and found yourself feeling disoriented, maybe even struggling to remember where you parked? According to researchers at Michigan State University, dim lighting can reduce the capacity of the hippocampus (the area of the brain that controls memory and cognition) by 30%. And studies have shown that the color of light also affects our ability to learn. Warm lighting results in better outcomes for short-term memory and problem-solving than cool lighting.
If you’re finding it difficult to absorb information, consider turning on another light or investing in warmer bulbs.
The temperature of the room is another factor that affects a student’s ability to process and apply new information effectively. Although a neutral temperature of 72℉ results in the best academic performance, colder rooms tend to yield better learning outcomes than warmer rooms. In a study of high school math students taking tests in classrooms of different temperatures, students performed best in a 72℉ classroom (an average score of 90%), followed by a 61℉ classroom (an average score of 76%), with the lowest performance in an 81℉ classroom (an average score of 72%). There is also some evidence to suggest that the student’s sex affects whether they perform better in warm or cool rooms, but this may just be a result of different clothing choices.
So, next time you open that online course, consider the temperature of the space. Turn on a fan or put on a sweater if necessary, so that you feel comfortable and ready to learn.
Although air quality is often left out of discussions about learning environments, it actually makes a significant difference in a student’s ability to learn. According to the EPA, improving indoor air quality improves the learning outcomes of both adults and children, boosting their ability to concentrate and recall information. One study showed that students in classrooms with higher outdoor air ventilation rates scored 14% to 15% higher on standardized tests than students in classrooms with lower outdoor air ventilation rates.
Improving the air quality in your home can be as simple as opening a window. You can also buy air-purifying plants, such as spider plants and golden pothos, and place them near your desk. If you’re learning on the go, consider sitting by an open window or even taking your device outside (if weather and Wifi permit).
Of course, in an ideal world, we would all be able to learn in a private, soundproofed room with warm lighting and a high-quality air purification system providing us with clean air at a perfect temperature… But most of us don’t live in that world!
The best learning outcome is having the motivation to learn more. If you feel you need to work hard to curate the perfect environment every time you open an online course, you may end up never finishing it.
If the only time you can spare to take a course is on your commute, that’s where you’ll learn best. If you can’t bear to get out of bed and take a course on Saturday mornings, take that course from under the blankets.
Just maybe consider opening a window, replacing your bulbs with warmer ones, or investing in a pair of noise canceling headphones. Improving your ability to learn can be as easy as turning on a light switch!