The balance between socializing and studying: making the Learning Commons work for you

If you walk into a library, you will most likely enter a realm of peaceful, hushed silence. However, when you walk into the library at PHS, you most often see crowds of students grouped around tables with laptops and iPads on hand, chatting incessantly. But then you remember the PHS “library” isn’t really a “library.” Conveniently renamed the Learning Commons last year, the space that was once known as the library has turned into a place where students come together to socialize, eat lunch, use the available technology, or—occasionally—actually study. Faced with the choice between finding a forgotten corner in which to study or pulling up a chair at a rambunctious table filled with friends, you, the enterprising student, must look inward to determine which is more conducive to your education. Ultimately, though socializing is tempting, a quiet study place will facilitate the most productivity.

graphic: Annie Kim

graphic: Annie Kim

To stay focused on the task at hand, students will often retreat into the quiet study spaces that leave them with only one course of action: work. These quiet study spaces are lacking in the context of the Learning Commons. Even if a student hides in one of the bookshelves, the voices of other students will still worm their way through the maze, taking focus away from the open binder that begs for attention. In a true private study space, the only possible source for distraction is the black hole of social media, which consumes practically every student, but this is a problem that a student can easily fix. Once the phone has been hidden and shut off so that the outer world is temporarily forgotten, the student’s only option is to work. Per minute spent working, a quiet study space definitely yields more productivity. Gone are the hypotheses of what the group of students in the corner is talking about, gone is the interest in what video the person sitting next to you is watching. The silent vacuum that surrounds students as they work allows them to hone in on the only other noise present in the space, the scratching of pencil against paper.

A quiet work environment, as rare as it may be, does however eliminate one of the most helpful sources a student has: his or her peers. The title learning commons is appropriate for the study space that PHS provides; while it is meant to facilitate learning, it is accepted that there will generally be interaction between students. Other students are one of the best sources for secondary opinions or specific help on a multitude of topics, and another set of eyes is always useful for improving work and catching mistakes. Some students can even solidify their understanding of a concept by having multiple students explain the concept in different ways.

Unfortunately, the conversation about the specific assignment or class usually often degenerates into a conversation about something unrelated, and that is when work doesn’t get done. Although conversation with peers can lead to new ideas and insights, productive self-study should not be completely sacrificed. Procrastination is built into our minds, and having masses of people around us can only distract us more from our work. If a conversation is taken up, a balance needs to be achieved and limits must be set so that the focus ultimately returns to the work that needs to be done.

A shared, social learning space can be beneficial at times, bringing new insight into the conversations. However, it is in quiet spaces that all distractions are eliminated and the student’s mind works best.

So next time you walk into the Learning Commons, remember that it is there for collaboration, for learning new things from other students, but also remember that it may not be the ideal quiet study space you are looking for.

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