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How to optimize environments for better learning

There are numerous factors that can influence the quality of our learning. InformEd by Open Colleges released an article that shares how we can optimize environments in order to improve learning quality. Experts affirm that the more we understand about why and how things can affect our learning and ability to commit new information to memory, the more effective the process of learning will be.

“A growing body of research shows that even seemingly insignificant factors such as natural lighting, type of background noise, and the time of day we study can have a bigger impact on our productivity and learning than we ever imagined. Here’s a look at what we know so far, and how you can optimise your environment and study routine to learn faster and get better grades”.

What is the best environment for learning?

  • Background and noise

This factor may vary from one person to another, researchers show that there are times to use music, noise or silence when it comes to learning. To be exposed to low-level noise can distract you and may induce the release of cortisol which can impair the function of the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that regulates executive functions like planning, reasoning and impulse control.

“How noise affects your cognitive performance may also depend on your personality type and whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. Research from Glasgow Caledonian University found that when people were exposed to different types of noise and music, they were more likely to have performance problems if they were introverts. This is likely because introverts are more sensitive to noise distractions and may be more easily overwhelmed by stimuli”.

By understanding your personality type and preferences in terms of studying it will be easier to set up an ambiance that fits, regardless of the studying trends that may appear.

  • Artificial light vs natural light

Lighting is another important factor that affects the cognitive abilities of students. Research shows that dynamic lighting can support and improve student performances in classrooms, but it is very important to also pay attention to the type of lighting.

“Researchers have found that our body’s reaction to natural light is very different to that of artificial light. A study led by neuroscientist Dr Mirjam Munch found that artificial light tends to make us feel drowsy, whereas daylight helps us feel alert and focused. So if you want to optimise your learning environment, outdoor spaces or rooms with large windows and plenty of natural light are ideal”.

Since it is not always possible to have daylight all the time, another research in Austria shows that students performed better on reading, writing and math when they studied in classrooms with “enhanced lighting (500 Lux) compared to those in classrooms with standard lighting (300 Lux). So if you can’t have natural light, the next best thing is to use extra bright lights”.

  • Cluttered vs tidy study environment

Research shows that if students seek to be persistent and efficient, they need to study in tidy environments. “Harvard researchers found that people sitting at messy desks were less persistent and less efficient than those sitting at well-organised desks. People at messy desks also became frustrated and weary more quickly than those at neat desks”.

  • Mixing up the learning environment

Even if students are used to creating a specific area in order to study, researchers find out that routine can be an enemy for performance.

”Studies show that if you want to make new information stick in your long-term memory, it can help to study in a variety of locations. This is because of what is known as context dependent memory. Research led by Dr. Robert A. Bjork of UCLA along with Steven M. Smith from the University of Wisconsin, Madison shows that our brain makes subconscious associations between what we’re studying and the background sensations we’re experiencing at the time”.

Studying in different types of learning environments (home, coffee shop, library and others) may help the brain to make multiple associations with the material. By doing so, it is more likely to be able to remember information in a variety of circumstances and apply them to real world contexts.

At MKThink we are also looking at how learning environments can adapt to our evolving needs over time and how those spaces are designed considering factors such as wellbeing and safety.

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