Surprise! The Unexpected Outdoor Class Advantage

outdoor learning advantage

“Can we have class outside today?”

If you’re like me, you get this question often. Especially on a beautiful spring day…

But do your students have a point? Might there be good reasons to move class outside every now and then?

Outdoor Class Advantage: What We Know

We’ve already got research suggesting that your students might be on to something.

Some researchers suggest that classes outside help restore student attention.

Other studies (here and here) indicated that they might enhance student motivation as well.

We’ve even got reason to think that exposure to green landscape helps students learn. For example: this study in Michigan suggests that natural views improve graduation rate and standardized test scores.

None of the evidence is completely persuasive, but each additional piece makes the argument even stronger.

Outdoor Class Advantage: Today’s News

If I’m a skeptic about outdoor class, I might make the following argument. Outdoor classes might be good for that particular class. However, they might be bad for subsequent classes.

That is: students might be so amped up by their time outside that they can’t focus when they get back indoors.

To explore this concern, Ming Kuo and colleagues put together an impressive study.

Over ten weeks, two teachers taught several pairs of lessons. Half of the time, the first lesson was taught outside. For the other half, the first lesson was taught inside.

Researchers then measured students’ attentiveness during the second lesson in these pairs.

The results?

The Results!

Students were more attentive — A LOT more attentive — after outdoor classes than indoor classes.

In almost 50% of the lessons, attention was a full standard deviation higher after outdoor classes. In 20% of the lessons, it was two standard deviations higher.

Technically speaking, that difference is HUGE.

(By the way: the researchers came up with several different ways to measure attention. Outdoor classes led to improved attention in four of the five measures.)

The Implications

This research suggests that teachers needn’t worry about outdoor classes leading to distraction in subsequent classes.

That finding doesn’t necessarily mean that outdoor classes benefit learning, but it does mean we have fewer potential causes for concern.

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