fitting online into your life

Study Environment

Being a successful student often centers around routine, and part of your routine should include using a study space to complete your online coursework. While one of the advantages of an online course is the “anywhere” factor, where you study will impact the effectiveness of your studying.

Choose your space

Choosing your study environment is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as an online student. Ideally, the space you choose should be somewhere in your home. Choose an area that’s easily accessible, free from distractions, well lit, and comfortable. The space should also be a place you like, as it will ultimately become the place your brain associates with school work.


“At home is my sacred place I can get comfortable, enjoy quietness, read things aloud for better understanding, and answer questions during discussion boards without worrying about what others would say about me in a classroom setting.”

Stock your space

Once you’ve selected your study environment, make sure the space is stocked with the things you need to succeed. Try to limit your space to only the essentials to avoid clutter.

  • Technology. To get your work done you’ll need, at a minimum, a desktop computer with a monitor or a laptop, an internet connection, and a power strip.
  • Furniture. Get yourself a desk and a chair. You want to be comfortable, but not so comfortable that you’d rather sleep than study.
  • Lighting. If you’ve got a window at your location, great. You’ll still want to get a lamp for times when sunlight is limited (like when you’re studying in the middle of the night).
  • Clock. Use a clock to keep track of how long you’ve been studying and when you need a break.
  • Supplies. Make sure you’ve got the basics: pens, pencils, paper, color-coded folders, and a bulletin board or wall calendar.
  • Snack Bar. Wherever you end up studying, bring along something to eat and drink. If you’re constantly getting up to get refreshments, you’re not going to make the best use of your time.
man studying at organized desk

dirty office with books and papers messily stacked on top of desk

Reduce distractions in your space

As you’ll come to find out, the time required to complete your online course work is comparable to, if not more demanding than, traditional face-to-face classrooms. To make the most of your time and avoid falling behind, you’ll need to minimize distractions by addressing each distraction separately and head-on.

  • Non-essential Digital Devices. Remove them completely from your study area, provide an auto-reply message that lets others know you are trying to study, and resist the urge to check your devices every five minutes.
  • Visitors. This is a tough one, but with a little effort you can minimize distractions. If you have roommates, make a study schedule that you can all agree on and stick to. If you have children, wait to study until they’re asleep, or give them an activity, such as handing them a book to read or turning on a movie. Hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door and close it.
  • Outside Noises. From barking dogs to jackhammers, there are plenty of distracting noises that are completely out of your control. Try earplugs or noise-reducing headphones. If the noises become too much, consider moving to your secondary study space.
  • Sun Shining. If you’re a vampire or a troll, you should already have measures in place to keep the sun out. For everyone else, consider closing your blinds or hanging a blanket to block out unnecessary light.
  • Pets. Pets are great. They’re cute, cuddly, and can provide you with a great reason to procrastinate. Don’t give in. Let them outside or ask a friend to watch them while you study (unless you have fish).
  • The Internet! The Internet can be a huge time suck. Resist the temptation to surf by turning off notifications, putting your phone away, or enabling Web browser add-ons that prevent you from accessing your favorite websites and social media while you’re working.

If this list of ways to reduce distractions just ain’t doing it for you, check out the following pages on improving your study environment:

Personalize your space

Just as you decorate your home and office to make it feel cozier, you should spruce up your study space to make it a place you want to be in. Decorate your desk with photos or posters, light a scented candle, put on some white noise. If it’s a shared space, go the minimalist route and hang a “Quiet Please” or “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. Whatever the case may be, don’t go overboard. The purpose of your study space is to help you study more effectively, not serve as a distraction.

Maintain your space

This should be a no-brainer, but keep your study space neat and tidy. Organize your bookshelf, throw away trash, put your pencils and pens in a cup, file your papers, and clean up after you eat and drink. The same goes for your computer. If you save all of your files onto your desktop, you’re going to have a bad time. Create folders for your courses and subfolders for the various parts of your course (e.g. assignments, readings, study notes, etc.) and save your files to the appropriate folder. It’ll be way easier to concentrate and find stuff if your physical and virtual spaces are in order.


ACTIVITY: Study Environment Analysis

Before you start moving desks and lamps around, let’s evaluate a few potential study spaces. The following tool will help you take a closer look at three possible locations to determine if they’re good places to study. When you’re finished, the location with the highest number of “True” responses should be the best space for you.

Choose Your Locations

Think of three locations and enter them in the boxes below.



There are few distractions, such as a phone or TV in this location.


Other people rarely interrupt me when I study in this location.


This is a quiet location, with almost no interruptions from phones ringing, people talking, or music playing.


I take a limited number of breaks when I study in this environment.


I study here regularly during the week.


I tend to keep my breaks short when I study in this location.


I rarely talk with people when I study here.


The temperature in this place is very comfortable for studying most of the time.


The chair in this place is very conducive to studying.


The desk/table in this place is very conducive to studying.


The lighting in this place is very conducive to studying.


There are few things in this location that are unrelated to studying or school work.

Your Results

The location with the highest number of “True” responses should be the best space for you.


1. Few Distractions

2. Few Interruptions

3. Quiet

4. Infrequent breaks

5. Regular use

6. Short breaks

7. Rarely talk

8. Comfy temp

9. Good chair

10. Good desk

11. Good lighting

12. Limited clutter



Adapted from the Study Environment Analysis by the Boston University Education Resource Center

Just as there are environments conducive for sleeping, there are environments best suited for studying. Find one that works for you and make it your own. You’ll be spending a lot of time there. The more you want to be in the space, the better off you are.