Does outdoor instruction make students more open to learning?

This is a claim proposed in a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology and honestly? I have my doubts. I’m not doubting if this claim is true or not, but I’m not sure if the researchers can back their claim by their own research.

What are the claims? (I read the whole study that was heavily influenced by the Selfdeterminationtheory by Deci and Ryan, but I’m taking these quotes from the more accessible press release).

Lead author Dettweiler from the study published in Frontiers in Psychology concludes that outdoor instruction with explorative learning methodology significantly promotes the attitudes of students toward learning, i.e. their intrinsic motivation. ‘Explorative’ means nothing more than simply giving students the freedom to discover the subject matter through independently organized experiments. These outdoor dynamics, which provide a strong boost to more situational interest for science and engagement with the subject, can be evoked in occasional outdoor instruction sessions as well.

The teaching techniques explored and developed for this instructional program should therefore be included as a standard feature of lessons in schools. “Whether it involves rural study centers away from school or forms a part of the science curriculum, or both, this statistical analysis demonstrates that regular outdoor teaching is an appropriate strategy to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Dettweiler concludes. “Such models might even be suitable to bridge the existing gap between science education and environmental education in the long term.”

What have they done?

Between 2014 and 2016, approximately 300 students participated in the program which is based on the curriculum for science subjects in secondary level I. Students are prepared for the one-week stay in the classroom. This is then continued on site during the research week, culminating in a two-day research expedition with experiments.

Both before and after the course, the students completed a questionnaire on their satisfaction and overall motivation in relation to their autonomy for a study developed at TUM. At the end of the week, the students again shared their experiences during the outdoor class.

Ok, sounds great, pre-test, post-test, but… wait. No control group? And the participants were actually a convenience sample of n = 281 students. And the actual learning wasn’t measured, so the students could be more open to learning, but we can’t tell if they actually have learned more.

And this all was just a one-off experience? I don’t want to shout Hawthorne effect, well, maybe I do want to shout it.

So does outdoor instruction make students more open to learning? Could well be, and this study does suggest it, but it’s hard to tell.

2 thoughts on “Does outdoor instruction make students more open to learning?

  1. I read that article this morning. Hasn’t it already been determined that students can be very poor judges of both how they best learn (learning styles) and how much they have learned (re-reading vs, retrieval practice)?

    So, yeah, I’m quite skeptical.

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