Learning Outside The Classroom

The Basics

LOtC is an acronym for Learning Outside the Classroom, a phrase that describes the use of places other than classrooms for teaching and learning. The aim is to introduce students to a different environment and get them ‘out and about.’ Studies have suggested providing them with these experiences can help raise achievement and improve classroom behaviour and engagement.1

Some ways to provide these learning opportunities are:

  • Language Trips/Studying abroad, which can include staying with host families.
  • Field Trips, such as museum and exhibition visits.
  • Service Learning and Community Engagement, such as volunteering in elderly centres.
  • Peripatetic Pedagogy, which allows teachers to design their classes as an experience, such as going on a walk while teaching their subject matter.

These activities help develop critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills, as opposed to conventional teaching that focuses on repetition and memorisation, which is mainly beneficial for students who learn best by listening.

 The Benefits

Teachers have a difficult job. One of their main objectives is to prepare their students for a positive and rewarding life after school. Classroom based lessons are becoming less popular as society’s demand for self-awareness and more specialised skills increases, and LOtC is one method of teaching that has yielded impressive results. By taking students outside, teachers can re-ignite enthusiasm for learning, while providing a real-life context that prepares their class for life after education.

Some other benefits for students include:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • Higher motivation and engagement in their education
  • Greater levels of achievement
  • Improved classroom behaviour (even for those who were previously un-engaged)
  • Improvement of personal, social and emotional development
  • Better health and fitness levels
  • Reduced stress

Although many teachers cite cost and organisational effort as reasons for avoiding LOtC2, a cost-benefit analysis isn’t always an accurate measure of value. Often, the benefits aren’t easily quantified, so the reduced behavioural problems, the more accepting and inclusive attitudes, the empathy and the increased curiosity are overlooked when making a decision on whether to introduce learning outside.

The Philosophy

There are several philosophers, such as Kurt Hahn3, who have theorised about the effects of natural environments on human beings. Many agree that being outdoors takes away modern conveniences and allows those in nature to expand their minds and become more ‘aware’ and ‘true’ to themselves. People are at their ‘rawest’ level and see others the same way, regardless of race, class or religion. Other skills such as teamwork and physical challenges that stretch the mind and lead to internal mental challenges are also said to induce a thirst for learning.

This philosophy was adapted into educational models that have been applied in modern education. Experimental Learning, Group Development and the Outward Bound Process Model are some examples.

The Application

The Duke of Edinburgh Award4 is one famous example of how experimental learning can be successful. Their programmes involve activities in four to five sections (volunteering, physical, skill, expedition, residential), with Bronze, Silver or Gold awards upon completion. The award creates an opportunity for young people to gain perspective, direction and confidence, while colleges, universities and employers view DofE awards as an impressive achievement when considering applicants.

Other examples include Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, Forest School and Project Adventure. These initiatives have all seen impressive results in terms of student development. Trends with climate change, a fitness culture, and the growing concern that nature deficits are causing poor behaviour have all led to a popularity in outdoor learning.

The Science

Anecdotally, LOtC has many champions. Teachers often discuss their own observations around the improvements they’ve seen in students following a trip. However, the long-term effects are harder to document due to the difficulty in determining cause and effect.

That said, a meta-analysis of 96 empirical studies conducted in 1997 looked at the benefits of outdoor education.5 The results indicated a positive trend, especially for students who struggled the most with classroom based learning.

Another comprehensive study focused on the stress hormone, cortisol, which naturally peaks in the morning and steadily decreases throughout the day. The study used two control groups of students. The first spent one day a week learning in a nearby forest, while the second studied indoors as usual. Their saliva was tested three times a day over the school year and the results quantified. They revealed how the group who studied outdoors one day a week showed normal cortisol patterns, while the group who only studied inside maintained higher stress levels throughout the day.6


We can confidently determine that the evidence concludes outdoor learning is a healthy and beneficial alternative to classroom based teaching, even if it’s just once a week. School trips either locally or abroad have wide ranging advantages that help students grow, adapt and evolve. Our shifting societal attitudes offer a natural route for LOtC initiatives to imbed in the educational system, and these insights are integral for the development and well-being of students across the world.

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  1. Ofsted: Learning outside the classroom. Source article: http://www.lotc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Ofsted-Report-Oct-2008.pdf
  2. Council for Learning Outside the Classroom. Source article:https://www.lotc.org.uk/school-travel-forum-launches-new-campaign/
  3. Kurt Hahn official website: http://www.kurthahn.org/about/
  4. DofE Official website: https://www.dofe.org/adventure/
  5. Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference. Source article: http://wilderdom.com/abstracts/Hattieetal1997AdventureEducationMetaanalysis.htm
  6. Stress in School. Some Empirical Hints on the Circadian Cortisol Rhythm of Children in Outdoor and Indoor Classes. Source article: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/14/5/475/htm

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