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There’s No Place Like Your Home Office

Be it ever so humble … creating a dedicated study space in your home is just one step you can take to support your own success with online learning.

As an online student you may be juggling many work and family responsibilities, which means you are studying late at night or early in the morning. Designating a special study space somewhere in your home helps ensure you use this limited time as effectively as possible.

While you may be able to participate in your courses through publicly available computers and Internet hot spots (i.e., libraries, coffee shops) these environments can be challenging as long-term workspaces and have limited hours of availability. Having the tools you need at home increases your opportunities to take advantage of the "any time" access that is such an important feature of online learning.

I received this topic suggestion via Facebook from a reader who is getting ready to begin a master's degree program online, and it sent me on a search for easy, inexpensive tips for setting up a home office.

Start with the Basics

Before setting up a new study space, create a list of the things you'll need to include there. Here are a few suggested items to get you started:

  • Computer and Internet access: Whether it's a desktop, laptop, or tablet, ask your program to provide the minimum technical specifications required to participate, including both hardware and software, and seek recommendations about different types of Internet connections available in your area.
  • Usable work surface: You may already have a desk available, but of not, a table or even a shelf can also serve this purpose. Find a space where you can comfortably use your resources and do your work.
  • Ample power outlets: If you've ever tried to work or study from an airport or other location, you know that searching for a power source can be a big deal and an important one to consider for recharging your devices.
  • Integrated headset: A headset with a microphone and headphones allows you to listen privately to recorded presentations, participate in live sessions, and block noise from the other activities going on in your home.
  • Reference materials: In addition to your computer, are there other resources you need to keep handy? Think about textbooks, course calendars, etc. and add them to the list of items that will require space in your study area.

Make the Space Yours

You'll need to create an environment that works for you. A recent list of "ways to spruce up your home office" from Mashable recommends several ideas that translate well to online learning:

  • Close it off: Find space that you can shut down or otherwise turn away from when you aren't working. Make the space "study-only" to avoid the temptation to multitask with household chores or engage in non-study activities like watching TV or sleeping.
  • Find a seat: As an online student, you'll likely spend a lot of time sitting, so it's important to find a chair that will be comfortable and not lead to back or other discomfort when you are putting in long hours at the computer.
  • Organize your materials: Store all of the items you'll need to participate in your courses in one place – printed articles, textbooks, syllabi, etc. Find a location that is both out of the way of general home operations and easy to access when you need it. Don't forget to include cables and chargers.
  • Set the tone: Your study space needs to be comfortable, but not too comfortable. Experiment with furniture, lighting, and temperature options so that the area is energizing, not sleep inducing.

Having a separate room to dedicate to study space is a real luxury, and often not practical or realistic. If this is the case in your home, can you carve out part of a room? Take a look at some clever alternatives for inspiration:

  • Closets and shelves can be re-organized and used for office purposes as described on
  • Unused corners of your home can be partitioned off and reassigned as work space as illustrated on
  • In the smallest spaces, it may be necessary to pack your office away when it's not in use. The "office in a chest" example from focuses on thoughtful organization and easy access.

Visit Often!

Ideally your study space will be one you want to return to on a daily basis. It will be effective in limiting distractions, increasing productivity, and putting everything you need within reach. Time spent looking for things is time taken away from your studies. Rethink the space you have available and take steps to make it your home office.

What is your advice for setting up study space at home? Share your favorite tips and suggestions with us here.

Image credit: DavidMartynHunt, Flickr, CC-BY