Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: Where do you learn best?

by  Dr. Ann Wagner

There is no shortage of advice for students when it comes to how they should be learning. Telling students to read more, write things down, teach other people, get enough sleep, and get organized are just a few of the tips.  Now don’t get me wrong, some of these can be great methods for learning.  But have you given much thought to what place works best for you?  And how do you know?  When we think about learning, many factors affect success.  How much thought have you given to your learning environment?

Your Physical Space

Beyond study methods, curriculum and materials, and instructors, one thing that is often overlooked is your comfort within your physical space.  Think for a minute about the place you tend to choose when you are trying to relax.  It might be a couch or your bed.  It might be inside with air conditioning, or it could be outside, soaking up the warm sun.  It could be first thing in the morning, right after you’ve had a good night’s sleep.  Or perhaps it is late in the evening when the rest of your world has gone to sleep, but you suddenly feel a burst of energy.

Compare that now to the places you study both in school and out.  Are they similar or are they radically different?  When we focus on our environment, we can find powerful clues as to our own comfort.  And tapping into our comfort sets us up for success in learning, working, and even relaxing.

Student leaning on book and thinking

Worst Case Scenario

Sometimes the best way to understand an ideal is to look at its opposite.  Think of a time when you have been in a place in which your comfort was limited.  I remember a time I was on an airplane in a middle seat, between two large-framed men.  Now some would say with some conviction, that as the smallest person it was best that I was the one in the middle.  However, as the smallest person, these two men not only took over the armrests but also had their knees stretched over into my space to accommodate their lack of legroom. Then the toddler behind me started throwing a loud fuss and kicking the back of my seat.  The thought of staying in this position for more than four hours gave me great anxiety, to the point that I was starting to feel as though I had to get off the airplane. Luckily, I was able to be reseated by the flight attendant, but what if I had been trying to get some important work finished and couldn’t change seats?

Perhaps your mental image of discomfort is also the middle seat of an airplane, or maybe it is standing on a crowded bus, or waiting in a long line in the cold, or perhaps it is just sitting in a crowded classroom.  No matter your scenario, how effective do you feel you would be learning and processing information?  At coming up with creative ideas?  At doing your best work?

airplane economy seats


Your comfort in a physical environment tends to fall under four main categories: physical, environmental, sociocultural, and psychospiritual.  Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.


When we think of the visuals of learning, media shows us a student sitting attentively at a desk with perfect posture: back straight, knees together, and feet on the floor.  However, in reality, the complex combinations of desk heights, back support angles, seat heights, and more are adjusted to an average, meaning that most students will not fit in some way.  This could mean that a student's knees hit the top of the desk, or that another’s feet don’t touch the floor.  Further, a sweater that felt just right at the start of the day may now have become too warm and scratchy.  And maybe there just isn’t enough space to put out the things you need.  Physical comfort is essential to maintaining a focus on learning.


What is surrounding you?  Is the space quiet or noisy?  Is the temperature right for you or are you baking in the afternoon sun shining through the window?  Is the space visually pleasing or does it feel messy and chaotic?  Is the lighting right?  Too bright?  Too dim?  Are you able to spread out your possessions or are you concerned about keeping an eye on your belongings?  These are all examples of the ways your environment can affect your comfort, and therefore your ability to focus.

students in a row in class


For some, the activity of a coffee shop is the perfect location.  For others, it is the solitude of a quiet area of a library.  Do you work best on your own?  Or is collaboration with others what keeps you motivated?  Your preferred need for and methods of social interaction within your environment deeply affect your comfort.  Let’s go back to my airplane scenario.  Perhaps one of the gentlemen strikes up a conversation with me.  Will it make the situation more comfortable to engage in social interaction or will this further distract me from my plans?  How will I feel if I politely tell him I need to focus on my work?


Finally, how does the space make you feel?  Do you feel at ease?  Do you feel inspired?  In awe of some greater power?  Or do you feel stifled, unsafe, or even victimized?  Maybe you are in a lovely space and feel energized, but just not the right kind of energy for focus.  Spaces have a powerful impact on us, even when we cannot quite logically determine why.

OK, but now what?

Granted, you cannot always control your learning spaces.  Schools, as much as they are institutions of learning, often have classrooms that are anything but excellent places to learn.  However, as an entrepreneurial thinker, let’s center on what you can do.

Eliminate distractions

While there are many distractions you cannot control, there are also many you can.  Do you check your phone a little too often?  Try putting your phone just out of reach, in another room, or maybe just turn it off for a while entirely.  Are your friends making it hard to concentrate?  You may need to politely move to another location.  It is amazing how much we can get done when we can stay focused.

Find physical comfort

As much as possible in your environment, find a comfortable place to sit and work.  This should include supporting your back in some way and should promote good circulation.  When you can, get up and stretch from time to time.  Your body needs movement.

Optimize your environment

How is the lighting?  Can you see?  Are you hot? Cold? If there is background music, does it have lyrics that distract you?  Too often at a coffee shop, I find myself singing along in my head to the lyrics of the song that is playing. 

Is engaging with other people helpful or is it keeping you from what you need to do?  Not every task has the same requirements.  When writing, I do best in isolation, but when brainstorming, I need others around to share my ideas and get feedback.

comfortable corner desk

Find your happy place

Once you better understand your best places to work, study, and collaborate, place yourself in those places as often as you can.  Further, use what you know about yourself to set up a good work environment in your home.  Remember, YOU are in charge of your learning.  Set yourself up for success.

Dr. Ann Wagner

Ann Wagner, EdD is a founder and the Vision Engineer for Launch Education.  Dr. Wagner has led international schools around the world and currently teaches at the university level, working with educators earning their masters' degrees.