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Do students learn more outside?

Do students learn more outside?

3 min read
  • The science of learning

Especially towards the end of the year, many lessons are taught outdoors to make the best of the warmer, sunnier days and the more relaxed rhythm.

So, we asked ourselves: do students learn more from being taught outside? Or do the wide-open natural spaces lead to wandering minds and therefore less learning?

We’ve been digging through the research to find out what benefits being taught outside may have.

Enhanced motivation

Recent research has found that students who had science lessons outside showed significantly higher learning motivational behaviour, in comparison to those who had traditional classroom lessons.

Researchers have attributed this outcome to students experiencing more enjoyment in the practical aspects of outside lessons. In addition to this, the research also demonstrated improvements in motivation to be most prevalent amongst students who initially showed lower levels of self-regulation. This suggests that outside lessons may be a particularly helpful way of engaging with struggling students.

Increased student engagement

Teachers may be concerned that lessons in nature would overexcite their students, leaving them unable to concentrate in subsequent indoor lessons.

However, quite the opposite effects were seen. Evidence suggests that students’ concentration in an indoor lessonthat followed an outdoor lesson was significantly better than those who had experienced the exact same previous lesson in an indoor environment.

Improvements in social relationships

Spending more time outside has also been proven to help students develop their social behaviours, attributes that enhance the learning experience for all in the classroom. Recent research found that for students who struggled socially, spending more time outside taught them how to better engage with their peers, through showing an enhanced appreciation of their differing emotions, how to trust others and how to better cooperate with them.

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Reduced stress

Recent research sought to investigate what impact learning in a forest for just one day a week would have on student’s stress levels. The researchers found that the students who learnt in the forest environment showed a decrease in their production of the stress hormone (cortisol) over the course of the day, whereas those who did not have this experience did not show the same decline.

As the school environment often offers many stressors (for example the pressures of performing well in exams, making sure you fit in etc.), any method that can reduce student stress can only be a positive.

Enhanced physical activity

Recent research has suggested that spending more time outside leads to children engaging in more physical activity and fewer sedentary behaviours, in comparison to children who spend more time indoors. This therefore suggests that teaching students outside can encourage them to have healthier and more active lifestyles.

Exercise not only brings about improvements in health but has also been shown to improve concentration, a skill that is critical in the classroom. Researchers at the University of Bristol found that when participants exercised at lunch, their perceived concentration levels were 21% higher than the days in which they did not engage in this exercise. To find out more about the psychological benefits of exercise for students, check out this blog.

Final thought

As surprising as it may seem, teaching students outside has been shown to enhance their learning experiences: it increases engagement, enhances motivation and reduces stress, to name just a few.

This being said, it is important to bear in mind the practicalities of teaching outside, such as the fact that access to resources (PowerPoints etc.) would obviously be limited. Therefore, the best approach may be for schools to intersperse outside lessons amongst the more traditional classroom set up.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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