Academic Gains through Improved Learning Effectiveness (AGILE)

Managing Your Learning Environment

An infographic with tips on how to manage your learning environment.

We created a graphic to help you remember the key concepts covered below in a downloadable PDF.

A “learning environment” is any place where you are trying to take in new information, connect concepts, apply information, complete an assignment, or practice a new skill. That is, a learning environment is any environment in which you are trying to learn! The physical classroom, the virtual classroom (if taking an online or blended course), and the space where you do your homework and other academic “time-on-task” are all learning environments.

To “manage” the learning environment means to take steps to maximize attention, reduce distraction, and be as productive as possible. As the learner, you have more control over your learning environments than you think. There are aspects we cannot control, such as what other students in the class are doing, or the behavior of your roommate, partner, or kids. The list of what you can control is much longer! This includes:

  • Where you sit in the classroom
  • Whether or not you have devices, such as a laptop or smartphone, on your table or desk
  • Which applications you have open on your computer when completing assignments
  • Where you do your academic time-on-task outside of the classroom

If you're looking for more information on one aspect of planning ahead, click on the name below to jump to that portion of the page. We encourage you, however, to read all of the information below.

Inside the Classroom

It may be less intimidating to sit in the back of the classroom, or at least away from the few rows of seats in the front. It is also common to take notes on a laptop or other electronic device. However, since attention is one of the most critical components to learning, here are steps you can take to manage the classroom environment to maximize your attention:

  • Sit in the front row or close to the front of the room. This helps with attention in a number of ways. First, there will be no students within your view, eliminating the distraction of other students having side conversations, doing non-class activities on a laptop, or texting on a cell phone. Secondly, being near your professor creates positive accountability so that you are far less likely to do any of those behaviors! Lastly, you will have the “best seat in the house” in terms of being able to see and hear the information.
  • Keep your phone in your bag and on silent. Even checking a quick text, SnapChat, or other instant message can be a form of multitasking and “self-interrupts” your learning process.
  • Take notes with pen and paper instead of a laptop. More and more studies indicate the benefits of physically writing notes. You also can use an active approach such as Cornell note taking.
  • If you need to use a laptop for note taking or other class-related activities, only open the applications you need for that task. It can be tempting use your laptop in class to check email, Facebook or Instagram, other websites, or even gaming applications. Our brains are not designed to multitask!

Outside the Classroom

Students often share that they do their “studying” at home. Home may be a residence hall room, or off-campus apartment or house. Here’s the challenge with this choice: there are many OTHER activities done at home. The list is endless: watching TV, playing XBox, practicing guitar, spending time with family and friends, taking a nap. The more we do those activities, the more the brain associates those activities with that environment. The result? When sitting down to do our “studying” (academic time-on-task) at home, the brain says, “You know, instead of studying, I could be watching TV, playing XBox, practicing guitar, spending time with family and friends, or taking a nap!”

In addition to the advice provided earlier about avoiding multitasking associated with electronic devices, here are some tips for managing your learning environments outside the classroom to be as effective and efficient as possible:

  • Find a location away from home for your academic time-on-task that your brain will ONLY associate with learning. Consider both on- and off-campus locations, such as USM Libraries, empty classrooms, the campus center, or a coffee shop where you only go when it is time to study. This creates the cues that tell your brain, “It’s study time!”
  • If studying at home, designate one space for learning. A separate room such as a home office is ideal, but for many students is not practical. Consider having one table or desk as your “go-to” learning area. This can minimize the cues associated with other activities that are done at home. On a related note, one of the LEAST productive places to do work at home is in bed!
  • Have only the materials you need for that particular study/work session. Often students will take out every textbook, notebook, and device, which can be overwhelming and distracting. By using the strategy of scheduling specific academic tasks for each study/work session as part of overall time management, you will know exactly what is to be accomplished during that time, and can plan accordingly by only having the materials for that task.
  • If noise is helpful, create your study “soundtrack”. Some learners can get “into the zone” with the right noise. Having the TV on typically is a distraction, not an aid to attention. Instead, consider finding music that your brain will come to associate with learning. Having a study playlist in Spotify, Pandora, or other streaming platforms can quickly set the tone for your learning, much like having a workout or running mix can make all the difference!