Bringing back the studious atmosphere cafes hold during online learning

Two students chatting at Revolution Roasters in Oceanside, CA. Melody Bathaee/Lariat

Coffee shop spaces become the safe haven for college students during campus closures

Students have become deprived of a quiet and motivating study atmosphere due to the closure of all college campuses during the coronavirus pandemic. Struggles to stay on top of classes and assignments without settings used for learning, such as libraries and outdoor campus spaces, can cause learners to fall behind and feel uninspired to continue online education.

This beacon of isolation makes online learning a treacherous chore that leaves students questioning their participation. Locating places outside the home with both internet access and a mindful niche for focus was difficult because of business closures during the peak of the pandemic last spring and summer. But with lightened regulations in California and businesses opening up alongside the pace of distribution for the COVID-19 vaccine, students have begun buckling down at their favorite coffee shops to gain a sense of social and mental routine within education once again.

Cafes always welcomed and encouraged a productive mindset as people utilized the concentrated set-up of the space for getting work done. Usually, this would include grabbing a drink and sitting down for a couple of hours to do a constructive activity while surrounded by individuals who also carry the dynamic of this flow. In providing free internet access, soft music and communicating a relaxing ambiance to customers, coffee shops attract students to utilize its spaces for studying and completing assignments.

With campus libraries and study spots unavailable for students to use, coffee shops close by are now hubs for learners to keep these drink and pastry spots occupied during all hours of operation. But the impact they have on the type of customer visiting with a backpack and laptop in hand is more at this time than ever before.

A household can already be a tiresome place packed with commotion that hinders learning when in an online learning environment – an experience college students shared during the 2020 year. Escaping unstimulating conditions to go to a new place can make all the difference in productivity.

Aida Soriano, a social psychologist at the University of Valencia, conducted a study depicting how environmental stressors lead to productivity loss. Her results show that many discomforts and distractions that impede the ability to work positively come from indoor annoyances like noise, temperature and clutter. When removing these triggers, the experiment showed signs of improved mental emotionality and performance overall.

“In this line, being forced to work under unpleasant conditions can have negative consequences for affective well-being,” Soriano stated. “For the double mediation, the results showed a significant indirect effect through health-related symptoms and negative emotions for the ‘high interactive, high complexity’ pattern.”

Individuals participating in multiple college-level courses juggle the demands of high volume assignments and tests with tasks apart from schooling, like a job or family obligation. Without an on-campus learning structure, students have little-to-no access to an environment that can separate the complexities of their multifaceted lives.

Changing the flow and pace of common rituals and traditions when it comes to productivity is especially useful when surroundings have been unvaried for so long. The pandemic set students into a slump of repetition that created an unmotivating sequence for school work. Finding a way to differ from those indolent patterns makes all the difference.

With the right atmosphere of inclusivity and active awareness of the purpose of traveling to get assignments done in the first place, coffee shops allude to a feeling of quaint productivity. Their unannounced ode to remaining respectful of others’ space almost forces customers to chat softly or go without a disruptive manner.

It is almost as if coffee represents that someone should either be occupied by doing something or sipping on a cup of joe. The utter ambiance of ordering, sitting down and seeing all those around in an extreme focus and concentration sets off agility for finding creativity that day.

Humans are known to use white noise – various background sounds and chimes that stipulate presence – to increase the fabrication of activities. This includes playing lo-fi beats while studying, turning on a fan to help you sleep and putting on a movie when cooking in the kitchen. These light noises may seem faint, but they enhance our productivity because they trick our brains into believing that the world around us engages in the kinetic activity.

In a 2012 article for the Journal of Consumer Research, University of Virginia professor Amar Cheema presented a study that found ambient noise to improve human cognition. He and his team found that faint sounds in a confined area allowed for more original content to flow for a person and creative performance.

“We theorize that a moderate (vs. low) level of ambient noise is likely to induce processing disfluency or processing difficulty, which activates abstract cognition and consequently enhances creative performance,” Cheema said. “A high level of noise, however, reduces the extent of information processing, thus impairing creativity.”

While cafes often house fluid conversation between friends, coworkers and business associates over an iced or hot drink – as goes the phrase “let’s meet up for coffee!” – these establishments draw students in by their ears. The small scrape of a spoon, the rolling steam of a coffee machine or the oddly specific music so enchanting that it has its own category on Spotify under “Coffeehouse” with 16 playlists and counting, can manifest itself into the efficiency students have been looking for since the switch to online learning.

Until campuses reopen this fall, students can lean on coffee shops and cafes for a stimulating space to study and the quaint character all cafes carry.