Why learning outside the classroom?

Learning styles

Much has been learned in recent years about the different ways in which we prefer to learn, and teachers routinely explore ‘learning how to learn’ in order to raise achievement.

What we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and do gives us a selection of ‘pathways to learning’.  At its simplest, this means three ways to learn: by listening, by seeing and from experience, known as auditory, sensory and kinaesthetic learning. There is an assumption that much traditional teaching has undervalued the power of sensory and kinaesthetic learning, an imbalance which learning outside the classroom can effectively address.

Boy and girl on a computer in front of a tree

Young people are intensely curious and will always take the opportunity to explore the world around them

More intricate is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which defines personal styles and describes learning styles by contrasting a range of attitudes: extroversion v. introversion, sensing v. intuition, thinking v. feeling, judging v. perceiving. The preferences people express create 16 different learning types. Of these, extroversion is a learning style based in activities, interaction, participation and expression — which are the precise attributes of learning outside the classroom. It is worth noting that over 50 per cent of learners place themselves in this zone and will benefit accordingly from learning outside the classroom experiences.

The theory of Multiple Intelligences developed by Howard Gardner, argues that there are seven forms of intelligence: Visual/Spatial; Verbal/Linguistic; Logical/Mathematical; Bodily/Kinaesthetic; Musical/Rhythmic; Interpersonal; and Intrapersonal. It is sometimes assumed that the kinaesthetic intelligence is most associated with learning outside the classroom; but, in practice, so are the Visual/Spatial and the Interpersonal. However, the theory makes the underlying point that learning kinaesthetically from experience is a powerful way of learning which we can and should make more use of. Learning outside the classroom does just that.

For those who are sceptical about such theories it remains a fact that young people are intensely curious and will always take the opportunity to explore the world around them if it is offered. So, the potential for learning is maximised if we use the powerful combination of physical, visual and naturalistic ways of learning as well as our linguistic and mathematical intelligence.

For many young people, it is not sufficient to acquire knowledge without seeing its relevance to themselves and the world around them. So, they learn better though practical experience and acquire their knowledge and understanding through real-life tasks that stimulate their natural curiosity. On return from an activity off-site, there may be follow-on activities that can be carried out within a school grounds or youth project, thus extending the learning outside the classroom and making the most of the visit.  In these ways, knowledge, skills and understanding take on a deeper meaning and help to raise achievement.