As I write this blog, I’m looking out at a classic Scottish Summer’s day, low cloud, drizzle and a penetrating westerly wind. I smile at the irony as I look back to what I’m writing, an encouragement to move outdoors for at least some of your experiential learning programmes. Why on earth would anybody think about doing that?
Yet a lot of people do! A lot of people value the outdoors as a space for learning and will actively look for the opportunity to get their participants out of the classroom and into the fresh air, no matter what the weather. So what are they getting, or hoping to get, from programme designs that include outdoor-time?
Very often the decision to move the programme outside is environmental:
• It is too warm and stuffy inside,
• People are showing signs of distraction,
• We need more space for the activity I’ve got planned
• The weather is actually nice for a change
Interestingly all of these reasons can be interpreted as negative, i.e. responses to something that isn’t right and needs to be changed, the outdoors becomes a second preference if the indoors isn’t working optimally.
However, it’s worth considering why you might actually choose to make the outdoors your first choice, so that moving indoors is your back-up. Here are three reasons why that might be a good option for you:
1. The outdoors has more distractions
Working outside means that you’re working in an environment where there’s a whole lot more going on. There’s weather, wildlife (insects!), traffic, other people doing other things and ambient noise, all of which are potential irritants and distractions that don’t happen, or happen to a lesser
extent, in the classroom. But let’s think about the environment to which the learning from your programme will need to be transferred. The workplace may be more familiar, but it is by no means devoid of distractions so there’s a strong argument for building learning environments that reflect this in being subject to unpredictable distractions.
The key to making this work is to ensure that the nature of the environmental distractions are at least mentioned in your review. “How did the group adapt their approach to accommodate the noise?” “What tactics did you use to ensure that working on an uneven surface didn’t affect
performance?” “What did the leader do to keep everybody focused on the task?” All of these questions will bring to the attention of the group how they have adapted their ways of working, allowing them to work in a disruptive environment.
2. The outdoors has more space
The confines of a classroom will always have an impact on the way that a group undertakes a given task. This may be a result of the compromises that the facilitator has made to fit the activity into the space, or the group needing to adopt an approach to the task that is a reflection of the classroom space available. Removing this constraint, e.g. moving an ‘indoor’ activity onto a large sports field and allocating widely-spread working spaces to participants will automatically create a different set of challenges and a correspondingly different response from the group. In these circumstances a familiar activity takes on a different character, and may produce different learning outcomes.
A feature of many modern organisations is the increased incidence of remote-working in situations where there is still the need for individual monitoring and close communication. These conditions can be simulated in a training environment by having individuals and sub-groups working in e.g. break-out rooms (RSVP Design’s T-trade and Post-it are excellent examples of this), but working outdoors offers an alternative to this which may be easier to arrange, and in some cases, cheaper.
3. The outdoors has the facility to ‘change state’
Intense programmes of learning are very tiring for all concerned, and often the environmental quality (light, air quality, ambient noise etc) has the effect of compounding the fatigue that people experience. Add in the ‘after lunch slump’ that most facilitators will recognise and there is a strong case for looking at something that will allow the group to change state. Working outdoors has a wide range of well being advantages in getting people moving about in the fresh air, getting eyes re-used to a longer focus and relaxing minds and bodies. For this reason designing a programme that contains time to just walk and talk outdoors is recommended, but in many situations programme time-pressure will make this a hard-sell as it is usually seen as not being a priority despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Working on an activity that is organised outdoors may avoid these negative connotations as the group are seen to be working on an active part of the programme.
The situation described above is based on a set of decisions that are made at the programme design stage, but there may be circumstances when the decision to move the programme outdoors is made during the programme based on how the group are responding. The need to change state might become evident during the programme if the group are in a negative frame of mind which is impacting on their ability to take the available learning from the programme. This negativity may come from a range of sources, for example, cynicism about the style or intent of the programme, hostility between group members arising from disagreements during the programme, fatigue from intellectually or emotionally draining content. In these situations the facilitator may decide that moving the next activity outside, or substituting an activity that will work outside, may be an effective and professional response.
RSVP Design have a range of tools that will offer a lot of options for working outdoors:
We also have Webmaster Bridge which is a custom-designed Webmaster that creates a fully working (and safe!) Burma Bridge.
Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about outdoor activities for your learning needs!