YouthMUSE welcomes Guest Blogger – Amanda Tradwick*
A solid curriculum is key to a sound education, but learning doesn’t take place just inside the classroom. Studies have shown that experiential learning, either in conjunction with classroom lessons or as part of on-the-job training, can contribute to future success in college or in the workplace.
Educators and homeschoolers are encouraged to find creative ways to illustrate lessons and key concepts through extracurricular activities or so-called field study, such as visits to museums, experiments in the natural world, and other projects in the community.
Here is how learning outside the classroom can lead to future
Greater Understanding of the Material
Lectures, readings, and videos can present important information, but key concepts can seem abstract. Learning outside the classroom and being able to experience these concepts in action can make the material more real and can build synaptic connections.
For example, watching a Civil War re-enactment can help illustrate military strategy or key historical events. Studying animals in a natural habitat such as a swamp can help students better understand biological and environmental issues. Not only do such experiences help reinforce concepts for greater comprehension, but they also help students who have different learning styles and who may not thrive in a traditional classroom setting. In either scenario, the end result is true understanding of the material, which will ensure a natural progression to higher levels of education.
When students are able to learn and understand the material, it improves their confidence and prepares them to take on greater challenges in the future, both in their education and in their everyday lives. Improved confidence helps to motivate students, making them more willing to engage with material and to take on academic challenges. This can set into place a progression of more academically rigorous work that compounds over the years, on through secondary school and college.
Social and Leadership Skills
The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom in England commissioned a report that found that students who regularly engage in activities that take place in the community and the natural environment developed better social and leadership skills.
Students are more likely to have to work in teams or to interact with other adults in their quest for information during these activities, enhancing their social development. They are also more likely to have to take charge of their own learning by using problem-solving strategies to get the required information, rather than being given all the tools and information as in a traditional classroom activity.
For example, students performing science experiments in a natural environment are exposed to more variable elements and are more likely to have to find natural materials. This stimulates critical thinking and leadership skills, both of which are valuable for continued educational success.
Innovation and Creativity
As learning outside the classroom fosters critical thinking, it also encourages innovation and creativity. Students who are more in control of directing their own learning are more likely to have to come up with creative solutions or to make connections that they couldn’t make in a classroom. Extracurricular activities can also be inspirational to students.
For example, visiting museums, cultural centers, or artist studios can help students find artistic voice. Attending concerts, plays, and operas can help students realize a love for music. Joining a dance class can teach students how to express themselves, and participating in a sporting event can teach critical
thinking and teamwork. These are all valuable life skills that will not only translate well in the classroom for academic success, but will also translate into success on the job.
Direct Job Training
For older students, many colleges and universities have recognized the importance of work performed outside the classroom for real-world understanding of the material and application of practical skills that will be necessary to performance on the job. Concordia University in Montreal launched a couple of programs that encourage student volunteer work and other extracurricular experience as a way to develop real-world skills.
MIT also encourages work experience and hands-on activities as part of its curriculum, and the Center for American Progress released a report about how work experience should translate into academic credit. These programs and studies all suggest that students who learn the material through experience are more successful in translating that knowledge to skills on the job (and vice versa).
The end goal of any educational program is to teach children to become confident adults who can use critical thinking for success in life and through their chosen professions. Finding ways to link that learning to real-world experience cuts out a middle step, showing the practical application of concepts.
*About the author: