Experiential Learning in the Outdoors & its Vital Role in the All-around Growth of Gen-Z
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The world is on the move and today, it is moving faster than ever. As we enter the 4th industrial revolution; a time of cutting-edge technologies and ground-breaking innovations; young students, referred to as Generation-Z or GenZ are amidst fast-changing times which will feature both unprecedented uncertainties and unparalleled possibilities.
With the rise of AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, industrial robots and blockchain technology, several concerns have been raised regarding the impact of these technologies on employment and the workforce. Notwithstanding, there is also enough evidence to prove that those students who equip themselves with the right skills and talents can stand to benefit immensely in this new industrial revolution as well. To positively leverage the opportunities that will arise, however, educational pundits and policymakers agree that the changing times mandate a tectonic shift in the approaches and pedagogical techniques vis-a-vis the ones being currently being employed in the education space.
Traditional, information-assimilation focused approaches & curriculums are being replaced by dynamic 21st-century skills focused programs that are more suited to future work as we imagine it today. From sophisticated gamification to remote learning, schools across the globe are embracing tech-enabled learning tools with open arms. With easy access to smartphones, tablets and laptops, most students nowadays know how to operate gadgets and navigate social media much better than their educators & parents. However, this sudden explosion of the use of technology in their learning processes has given rise to a certain set of physical & mental challenges. These are very likely to cause damages that can be detrimental to their success as we move headlong into the future ahead of us. That, combined with the sedentary urban lifestyles that we live today are leading to many issues affecting the development of young people. Rising stress levels among Gen-Z, obesity at an early age, increase in depression, growth in breathing related ailments are more common today than ever before. While it is crucial for Gen-Z to adapt to technology for their learning, there has to be an equal or more emphasis on developing skills such as empathy, creativity, mindfulness and an overall improvement in their health & wellness; all of which will be critical differentiators. There may be a case where the same technology that is supposed to leapfrog us into the next phase of human development might become a roadblock to us realizing a prosperous future.
The solution to this pertinent challenge actually lies in making Gen-Z uncomfortable in an environment that is unfamiliar to them and far away from their gadget-laden world- The Great Outdoors! The outdoors offer vast and expansive spaces to play, allow movement & expression that is unbridled and boisterous and get children in contact with the ever-changing natural environment.
Do Children Today Spend Enough Time Outdoors?
The answer is an emphatic ‘No!’. A study by Unilever in the UK revealed that children today spend less time outdoors than prisoners in maximum-security jails. The United Nations guidelines for prisoners require “at least 1 hour of suitable physical exercise in the open air daily”. These alarming revelations require immediate attention. There are calls around the world from industry as well as policymakers to reverse this trend urgently.
Benefits of Learning in the Outdoors
Given how malleable a child’s mind is, spending time outdoors and interacting with people helps young people subconsciously pick up social skills that are necessary for character growth. In fact, the entire premise of technology not being able to replace the human workforce is centred around on the fact that empathy, the human touch and interpersonal skills will be indispensable to future job roles as much as they are indispensable to today and yesterday’s roles. This makes it extremely necessary for schools, teachers and parents to recognize the need for building social and life skills in children from a young age.
Here, experiential learning in the outdoors, in nature is an effective solution. Although it’s yet to gain a strong momentum in India due to packed curriculums and a lack of quality outdoor experiential learning providers, a handful of schools have introduced this method of pedagogy, encouraging their students to venture outside their classrooms and develop skills that are paramount for survival and success in the real, human world.
There is no denying the fact that different minds respond to different learning methods; be it visual, aural or physical. However, it is the learning that occurs outside a traditional academic setting that enables students to acquire skills, knowledge and values from direct experiences. From providing a real-life context to instilling cultural awareness, out-of-classroom learning is a necessity for the overall development of students. In fact, various reports and research papers have shown the positive impact of outdoor learning on childhood development, calling for a large-scale implementation of these practices. While the list of benefits is endless, here are a few important ones:
• Students who spend time learning in nature and the outdoors tend to be more focused, and therefore, have a better recollection of information imparted in the classroom as well. Additionally, hands-on learning methods help deepen students’ understanding of a particular topic to a level implausible to be facilitated in the confined space of a standard classroom.
• By spending more time outdoors in nature, doing activities that keep their minds & bodies active, chances of children falling victim to diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle are drastically reduced. Exposure to nature, listening to the ‘sounds of the forest’ and spending time away from toxic urban lifestyles also aids in reducing stress and anxiety, adding to the psychological well-being of the students.
• Outdoors learning is also invaluable in developing skills related to experimental thinking, creativity, problem-solving among others. Natural elements such as water, sand, mud, rocks, flowers, leaves, sticks and twigs are all open-ended objects which can stimulate learners to get imaginative and use them creatively in their play. The adaptive nature of these elements in the outdoors can also inspire and trigger the adaptive capacities of learners.
• Residential outdoor experiences are quite efficacious for developing leadership skills of young minds. A great deal of their social skill learning takes place outside the classroom among the presence of different people. Furthermore, in outdoor settings, children prefer to work together in groups which helps stimulate their personal growth.
• By spending more time in nature, children start to care about their surroundings from a very young age. Learners understand the impact that their actions have on the environment and as a result on the air they breathe, the food they consume and the water they drink. This understanding of the interdependent nature of our relationship with the environment makes their concern for the environment emotionally rooted. It’s not an exaggeration to say that children with exposure to outdoor education are more aware and conscious about environmental issues as compared to their counterparts.
• Outdoor learning also provides students with the opportunity for multi-sensory learning. Take, for example, nature trips which allow children to explore the marvels of biodiversity. Instead of watching videos of flowers blooming on digital screens, they get a valuable chance to see, smell and touch them in real life. These experiences not only strengthen children’s bond with nature but also make them more interested in the subject.
Learning in the outdoors also makes their understanding multi-dimensional. Consider learning about a geographic region by actually travelling to the region and experiencing it as a local would. Students don’t just get to experience the geography of the place but also get to visibly observe and interact with the various cultural, economic and social elements that are in relation to the geography of a place.
This wide array of advantages makes a compelling argument for experiential learning based in the outdoors to be an integral part of the learning agendas planned for children not just in schools, but my parents too. Our children today need to be equipped with not just the right technical tools but also the skills, aptitude and the passion to utilize these tools to their fullest potential to solve the challenges that we face in our world today.