How To Optimise Your Study Space For Your Online Course

IOSH By Matthew Coombes

Online health and safety training courses are a fantastic way to develop your skills at home, in the office, and sometimes on the go. If you have the drive and self-motivation to keep working through the course materials, learning online provides a flexible and cost-effective way to develop your understanding of health and safety, whether it’s a 22-hour course like the IOSH Managing Safely, or a commitment over multiple years like the NEBOSH Diploma.

It’s well established that the environment you learn in has a great deal of impact on the effectiveness of your learning, so how can you optimise your study space for learning online?

Desk Space:

If you’re like me, you may find that a tidy workplace helps you to concentrate and keep your mind focused on the task at hand, so I like to keep things simple: study book, note pad & pen, and a mug of tea.

Find what set-up works for you, and for your learning style. If you work best with 5 empty coffee cups and 3 different notepads, who am I to judge?

Using devices with screens:

It may sound over the top, but not having office equipment like computer monitors properly set up can have a negative impact on your health. You may be sat in front of your device for hours, and in some cases your entire job may be online – all this time adds up. You wouldn’t hold your arm behind your back for 4 hours a day and expect to be comfortable, so why sit awkwardly for 8 hours? When taking an online course in particular, you need to consider how you are going to use any device with a screen. This goes for at work and in a home office set up. Improper set up of a computer workstation can lead to the development or worsening of muscular disorders, and consistent eye strain from poorly set up/suitable screens can have a negative impact on your vision.

When learning from home with an online course, you are likely to be using either a PC with keyboard and mouse, a laptop, or a tablet. Each of these devices has its own considerations that need to be accounted for.

Personally:

I have often found that a PC with a detached keyboard, mouse and screens is the best equipment for prolonged use. My PC set up at home is quite good, it runs as many office programmes as I can throw at it without crashing, so I always find that if I’ve got something to learn I’ll choose to use my PC.

Like many people, I’ve not got a fancy laptop, so it ends up burning my legs after around half an hour of use, and the thing would easily outweigh a few bricks. So laptop is a no-go!

My tablet is well-suited for e-learning courses and I’ve used it for short courses, such as to learn bits of coding. However, (and I don’t know if this is just my poor equipment again!) I find that the battery doesn’t last long enough when I’ve got a good amount of work to do, or a lot of pdfs to read, and I end up having to put it on charge each night. As I write this, I’m currently working from home, tucked up the corner with my work PC set up as I have it in the office.

PC:

It is recommended by HSE that for a good workstation set up, the top of your screen will be at eye level. This allows you to work more comfortably with your back straight, and helps to prevent you from tilting your neck downwards to look at the screen. You should also take care to ensure that the workstation is free from clutter, and that you can access your keyboard, mouse and any relevant files or books with ease. The set-up that we use at our offices includes adjustable screen mounts attached at the back of each desk which frees up room on the desk and helps to keep the screens fixed at the proper eye level.
Your keyboard should be at a comfortable distance for typing, and you should aim to keep your hands from being bent up at the wrist. Your mouse should be in close proximity to your keyboard, and you shouldn’t have to reach or lean in order to get to it.

Laptop:

Laptops, while mobile and convenient, may not always be the best device to use for a prolonged time. With the inbuilt screen, keyboard and mouse set up, you may find that you default to a more hunched position, or that your shoulders round towards the device as you read. Where possible, you should ensure that your back is up straight, and that your wrists are not bending upwards excessively in order to type on the laptop’s keyboard. This can be hard with a laptop, as the inbuilt screen means that the screen is going to always be lower down than your eye level, unless you have some kind of equipment set up to prevent this, for example by setting up a second monitor.

Tablet:

Tablets can be incredibly useful for learning as they are portable, lightweight and handheld, which means that wherever you go, your tablet can come with you. However, always ensure that your tablet is a suitable size for the task at hand. If you are reading a lot of materials, pdfs or text in general, make sure that the tablet is big enough to display text properly and comfortably for your own reading capabilities. As with laptops, the way in which you use your tablet can have a negative impact on your health. Learning with a tablet is best done in short bursts or with plenty of breaks, and if your neck, back and other muscles feel sore after using a tablet for a while, get somebody to help you to adjust your posture while you’re using the tablet by providing a 3rd person viewpoint.

Using screens during the day:

If you’re using screens during the day, try to make sure that the screen is free of glare. This means turning the screen itself away from windows and other strong light sources. Where possible try and avoid any intense light, both coming towards your eyes, and towards your screen.

Using screens at night:

Many modern computers have a “night-time” or similarly named setting that can be set to come on automatically at a certain time. Using screens that emit blue light at night can make it harder to sleep, and can cause more eye strain. As such, night-time settings are often yellow to orange in colour, and can prevent headaches when you’re working in a darker or night-time environment.

Breaks:

It is a good idea to take frequent breaks from whatever device you’re using. Get up, stretch, have a short walk around the room, or make yourself a drink. Breaks are essential, and can help you to learn by making sure that you’re not overloading yourself with information.

You can find out more information on how to set up your study space for learning online via the HSE website, Or take our short iAS approved Display Screen Equipment e-learning course.

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