Are There Benefits to Learning In the Outdoors?

Wednesday, June 14, 2023 by Catherine Gilliland | Outdoor Learning

Outdoor learning refers to education occurring outside the traditional classroom. Research documents that student learning benefits soar when lessons are received outside. Known benefits of working and learning in the great outdoors include increased natural energy, boosted mood, increases in problem-solving skills, reduced stress, better health, and enhanced teamwork. How do these benefits arise? 

Optimal learning is thought to occur when the particular psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are met. Not surprisingly, these needs are also directly related to personal motivation. Several studies prove that participating in outdoor learning activities increasingly fulfills these precursors to motivation.

Autonomy applied to learning involves the idea that learners embrace personal responsibility for their learning, and instructors support that autonomy. Inherent to working and learning outside, kids possess more autonomy in their decisions, thus breaking up the boredom that often accompanies seated desk work. When one judges their own actions as related to and effective in facilitating personally desired outcomes, they simultaneously realize their own competency. With increased competency, personal satisfaction rises and fuels future learning initiatives. Outdoor learning teaches kids to have a growth mindset, fostering confidence and resilience. Working outside connects kids with nature. Being present out-of-doors promotes a sense of belonging absent in indoor environments and supports the value of a caring disposition for the environment along with the plants and animals that we share with it.

A nourishing sense of relaxation is promoted as one spends time in the open air. Not only have reduced cortisol levels in outdoor learners been observed by researchers, but it is well understood that few individuals learn effectively in a regularly stressful environment, nor retain new knowledge in that un-relaxed state. Learning in a green space eliminates many typical classroom stressors, promoting a learning environment well-suited to our innate physiological learning needs. What is the conclusion? Whenever possible, take learning activities outside. When impractical or impossible, replicate as many of the advantages of outdoor learning in your indoors teaching and studying environments.

For more information:

The Benefits of Learning Outdoors | Psychology Today

The Benefits of Studying Outside vs. Inside (

Outdoor Learning: Benefits, Things to Consider (

Frontiers | The bright and dark side of autonomy: How autonomy support and thwarting relate to student motivation and academic functioning (

The Role of Teacher Autonomy Support on Students’ Academic Engagement and Resilience - PMC (

Experiential High School & Gap Year | High Mountain Institute (

Three particular psychological needs motivating learning are all present when study occurs outside the four walls of traditional schools.