One of the useful things about reading online editions of newspapers is that many offer a current list of the “most viewed” and “most emailed” stories. I sometimes find that the “wisdom of the crowd” approach helps to highlight an interesting article that I probably would have missed.

The New York Times online’s list of the most viewed/most emailed stories is usually dominated by high-profile columnists  (e.g., Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, Frank Rich, etc.) and sensational celebrity stories. Recently, however, one story that stayed at the top of the rankings for several weeks in early September was about … wait for it … study habits.

Study habits???

I mention the article here not necessarily because it provides groundbreaking new ideas on how to study more effectively (which it does not, despite the overheated headline). It is interesting that something so seemingly mundane and so close to us scholars would prove to be so popular for so long to a general newspaper readership.

However, I was gratified to learn about findings that confirm my own personal experiences and preferences. (Isn’t that how it often is — we like studies that support our views and ignore those that contradict what we want the answer to be? So I freely concede that this is all a bit self-serving.)

Specifically, the article said that there is evidence that the common recommendation to use a single location for all studying is wrong — in fact, working in different environments helps retention. Aha, that explains why I am more productive when I write away from my desk. That my preferred location tends to be places that serve fresh gourmet coffee and delectable snacks (yes, I’m looking at you Coffee Hound) is merely a minor consideration and an incidental bonus. I now have my data-informed justification for my practice and so I can feel more confident (less defensive?) about it.

I’m not the only one, of course. The Coffee Hound in Normal sometimes seems like an ad hoc satellite office for a significant number of ISU faculty and administrators. It has been a wonderful place for those serendipitous conversations that turn out to be quite valuable and pertinent to my work priorities. But that’s also why when I need to get away from my get-away “office,” I head for the Bloomington Coffee Hound. There are other fine local establishments that serve as an office away from the office (most with free wireless to boot).

So, if you’re also an itinerant worker in the field of higher education, I gladly share with you the empirical support that you may need to better rationalize (to yourself and maybe to your supervisor) your coffee house addiction productivity strategy.

New York Times

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits
Published: September 6, 2010

One thought on “Studying our study habits

  1. Here’s an interesting NYT article from this weekend about using mobile apps to study.

    To your point Patrick, with an app you can study anywhere! I haven’t researched all that is available in the app world, but wonder if this may one day change how our students choose to learn/study.