November 23, 2010

Taking Learning Outside the Classroom

by Olabode Ogundare, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy
Do you remember those schools days when the weather was so nice outside and you wish your class was also outside so you could really enjoy the fresh outdoors as well as learn? How about those last days of spring semester when your school still had the heat on and it was unbearable for you to learn anything … but if you were outside it probably would have improved your attention span? Well, if you agree with these statements, then taking learning outside of the classroom might be just what you need to help improve your learning experience!
Outdoor education is relevant to educational theory and practice because it is an instructional method. Outdoor education is a type of instructional style that dates back to the early 1940s. It involves the use of outdoor learning settings to cover subject matter through hands on learning experiences. Outdoor education is still practiced in today’s educational system and can involve educational activities outside of the classroom such as field trips, field work, camping, or simple observation of the environment. What differentiates outdoor education from the more ‘traditional’ instructional methods is that it incorporates several of the different learning styles into its teaching method, thus allowing students to have an individualized learning experience that correlates with how they learn.  Outdoor education plays a significant role in shaping the education of children and may help enhance their learning.1
In an article from titled, Environmental Education Programs Help Kids Connect to the Earth, Peter Bergstrom discussed how many adults feel that there is a steady decline of appreciation for nature in recent years. He emphasized that it is important especially for children to get in touch with nature because in his words, “fundamental to discovering who you really are, that you are not a person apart from nature, but a part of nature." If take a look at our education system, the amount of outdoor time children are allotted gradually declines overtime as they progress through their education. I think being able to connect with nature helps to develop critical skills that are not taught in the classroom setting. Outdoor educational programs similar to Bergstrom’s, help “kids recognize that they are smart in a different way from classroom smart,” which highlights that outdoor learning helps students engage beyond the norms of the classroom and enhance their learning experience.2

A study by the California Department of Education showed that six graders’ science knowledge test improved by 27% after participating in an outdoor educational program. Feedback received from the students showed that a majority of them felt that their participation in the outdoor education program actually changed them. When one student was asked whether he benefited from the program, the student responded, “Yes, because I learned more; I like science a lot because it helped me to protect the environment even more.” This demonstrates that outdoor educational programs really can enhance one’s learning experience and help students perform better academically.3,4

The study entitled Effects of Outdoor Educational Programs on Children clearly demonstrates the potential role outdoor education may have on shaping the education system in years to come.4 Educators need to realize the students they encounter have different learning styles and it may not excel when traditional classroom-based methods are used.  Outdoor education is an alternative for students who seek to be engaged and have an active role in their learning experience. Most importantly, outdoor education programs have shown to improve academic performance in students.  Educators should be inclined to incorporate this instructional method as part of their teaching style to enhance their students’ learning.

1.  Outdoor and Environmental Education. [Internet]. [Online:, Inc]; [Periodically updated; cited 2010 Nov 10] 
2.  Boutis, Nick.; Krisko, Beth. A Life Shaping Week: The Outdoor Education Experience [Internet]. [Online:, Inc]; [Periodically updated; cited 2010 Nov 8]
3.  What Does Environmental Education do for Children [Internet]. [Online:, Inc]; [Periodically updated; cited 2010 Nov 10]
4. Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California. American Institutes for Research. January 31st 2005: 33-41

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