From “What” to “Why”: Pedagogical foundations and benefits of Education Outside the Classroom

Quality of education and equal access to education are fundamental pillars of our society. To cope with current challenges, such as school dropout, poverty and low proficiency in the 21st century skills, outdoor learning seems to be one of the “newest” solutions…. 

By Mihaela-Viorica Rusitoru (European Science Foundation)


Neither new, nor old, education outside the classroom looks like the harmonized combination of alternative pedagogies with the current awareness of holistic approach.  

In fact, education outside the classroom focusses on the pedagogical principles promoted by different pedagogues, for instance: affectivity and interpersonal interaction in education (Jean Bosco), handwork and field training (Georg Kerchensteiner), inner peace and nature-based education (Rabindranath Tagore), autonomy, teamwork and study at your own pace (Maria Montessori), fighting against violence (Janusz Korczak), moral formation and values on education (Saint John Chrysostom) desire of learning (Céléstin Freinet), creating writing to read the world (Paulo Freire), active and creative learning (Ovide Decroly).

Based on these alternative pedagogies, education outside the classroom offers many benefits:

  1. Exploration-based learning: by participating in a learning activity outside the classroom, students are encouraged to observe and to explore the environment in a deeper manner (to touch a tree, to smell a flower). 
  2. Autonomy to choose their own learning activities: students have the opportunity to take part when learning activities are decided, to express their own thoughts and to propose activities.
  3. Creativity and artistic expression: students get the opportunity to express their own feelings, thoughts and opinions, as well as to be creative.
  4. Responsibility and decision-making: the goal of education outside the classroom is that students become active actors of their own learning process.
  5. Peer- and community-based learning: students interact closely with their classmates and peers, but also with teachers and different experts on education (e.g. educators if museum education, quizmasters if eco-museum). 
  6. Learning at their own peace: as differentiated pedagogy promotes the idea that each student has a rhythm of learning, acting and interacting, students can benefit from this personalized and tailored learning.
  7.  Simplicity and reflective consumption: during outdoor activities, teaching and learning materials are simple, easy to get (loose parts) and most of the time, recycled and recyclable. 

We can thus see that education outside the classroom, as it was thought and conceived by the biggest thinkers and pedagogues, contributes to the improvement of cognitive and affective, social and behavioral skills. This is by the way, the main mission of OTTER project: to test the outcomes of these competencies and to enhance the role of education outside the classroom on students across Europe. The greatest challenge to realize that is to pass from the traditional questions of “What” and “How” in education to the holistic question “Why”?



Photo by Rosemary Ketchum

From “What” to “Why”: Pedagogical foundations and benefits of Education Outside the Classroom