If you are studying a distance learning, online, or correspondence course, aiming for a formal qualification or purely as personal development, this is for you. It is necessary to have a dedicated personal study area because this provides important benefits to the study process. It is a physical and psychological necessity for anyone taking a professional development course by distance learning, online, or correspondence studies. It creates a visible, physical, and personal location where your studies are carried out, providing support facilities for your study activities. It is a place where you go to in order to do only one thing, study. Think of it as being similar to going to your workplace, where on arrival you switch into work mode. When you go to your study area, you switch into study mode.
Where should your study are be situated. This will depend on the layout and size of your home, but there are some ideal places and some very unsuitable places. Without a dedicated study area you would need to study on kitchen tables, sofas, beds, armchairs, dining tables, in rooms that are used frequently for other domestic activities. These are highly unsuitable, as they have no professional or academic or personal development features, and are full of distractions and barriers to effective studying. An ideal location would be in a small room that is specifically for study, in the style of a home office. Some students might have lofts, garages, or basements, that could be converted. Less ideal, but still suitable, would be an area in a bedroom, equipped for study, and not used for any other purpose. This would remove you from most day and evening time domestic activity (and even if you are single, living alone, it will keep you away from the television and refrigerator). If you do have to use a kitchen or living room, then you will need to alter your studying schedule so that you are studying when others are not present in these areas. Don’t try to study in the same room as others, or where there is domestic activity visible or audible. It won’t work.
If at all possible, buy a traditional desk. It doesn’t have to be large, or expensive (a low cost, second-hand, used, desk will be perfectly suitable). This will immediately give a professional, workplace, feel to your study area, and give you drawers and surface space to place your pc, laptop, papers, printer, pens, study books, on. Next, make sure you obtain a suitable chair. An office-style, swivel chair would be best, but a fixed chair will suffice. No matter what style, make sure that it is comfortable to use for long periods. Again, a used chair will be just as good as a new one, if selected carefully. For most courses of study a PC or Laptop will be essential. A mid to low range one will be suitable for most courses. Ideally an office suite such as MS Office should be used, but lower cost, simpler packages are fine too (and Microsoft itself offers a MS Office in Student-Teacher version, at one third of the cost of the commercial price). With your PC or Laptop, comfort is much more important than power. The essentials are a keyboard that is comfortable to type on for long periods, and a screen that is comfortable on the eyes for long periods of work. A printer is essential (a basic, low cost one will do) even if you email your documents to your tutor. It is good practice to print off your assignments (outlines, drafts, finished versions) and read them to proof-read them and see them as your tutor will (most tutors will print off your work and then read and assess it). Lighting is important. A well-lit room is vital, and a desk-top lamp can add focus to the working area.
Having supplies and peripherals nearby is helpful. A set of drawers in the desk, or a cupboard, or wall shelves, specifically for books, paper, pens, pencils, cartridges, etc, will help you to be organised, keep your study area tidy, and to have essential supplies available when you need them.
Choose a layout that suits you, but organise your equipment and furniture so that when you sit down to study you are not distracted by activity in a doorway, window, or other part of the room.
For most people, keep it tidy would be good advice. However, some people can’t work in a tidy fashion, but are very comfortable working in what others see as chaos. If that is your natural style, that’s fine, but even then, try to be as organised, as neat and tidy, as you can be this will help to keep you on track with your timetable of studies.
Your personal study area should be used whenever you have planned, scheduled, study activity that requires you to read and reflect on what you are reading, carry out research on the internet, correspond by email, telephone, or letter with your tutor, or write responses to exercises, tests, or assignments. Don’t use it for anything else. It isn’t the place to eat a snack, watch television, planning your next holiday, painting your nails, or chatting to other family members. If you want to do any of these, leave your study area and do them somewhere else!
If you have family or friends who live with you or work close to your study area, talk with them and agree that when you enter your personal study area they will not disturb you. Make this a permanent, non-negotiable, rule, broken only in cases of emergency. You can help by scheduling your study times when other people are less likely to disturb you, and by building in time to spend with family and friends when you are not studying. If you like to listen to music, or the radio, when studying, that’s ok, but make sure that it is not in reality distracting you. Television is not a good idea, because of the distraction caused by the moving images. If your study area is, by necessity, near a busy area where people are active, try to schedule your study time when that local activity is at its quietest, less busy times. Keep your mobile phone switched off, unless you have to be available to colleagues from work. If you do have to be contactable at home by work colleagues, try to make contact first, to stop calls coming in when you are studying.
For some students it is not possible to have a dedicated personal study area in the home, or at least not a permanent one. External locations are available which, although not capable of being personalized, could be regular locations in which, with regular use, you can feel familiar and comfortable. For example, Internet Cafes, where there is most of the equipment and furniture that you need. You can supplement these by taking carefully selected study aids such as coursework books. Internet Cafes usually do charge an hourly fee, which is usually a reasonable price, but most will give discounted prices for regular users. Libraries, where there is usually plenty of desk space, a very quiet and studious atmosphere, and, of course, reference and subject textbooks which, if not permanently available, can be ordered and loaned for short period. Today, many libraries also have pc and internet facilities. Libraries are virtually free to use, apart from a low internet usage fee. Your Workplace, where you may be able to use lunch breaks, and-or time before or after work, to fit in some study time. It may also be possible to arrange to use a meeting room or unoccupied office, at least on a short-term basis. Some of our students who find it impossible to study at home, and who work in organizations that operate on a 5 day week, make arrangements to go into the workplace on weekends and study there.
Establishing a Personal Study Area is one of the most beneficial actions that you can take when starting to study for a professional development qualification. A properly equipped, well organized, study area becomes a recognized space that you enter into when you are scheduled to carry out some study time. It becomes a place where you are comfortable and familiar with the layout and facilities, and where you feel confident that you can work without interruption, without distractions, and most importantly, study effectively. Even if you are not able to establish such a space in your own home, you should make every effort to recreate as many of the features described above, in another location. Once established it is easy to maintain, and grows in usefulness as you grow more comfortable in it.