You are viewing an archived web page, collected at the request of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) using Archive-It. This page was captured on 08:13:21 Dec 15, 2015, and is part of the UNESCO collection. The information on this web page may be out of date. See All versions of this archived page.
Loading media information hide

Learning outside the classroom

  • Introduction
  • Activity 1
  • Activity 2
  • Activity 3
  • Activity 4
  • Reflection


This module provides examples of ways that learning outside the classroom can be used to facilitate Education for Sustainable Development. This includes short visits into the school grounds and local community, as well as visits to farms, factories, offices, neighbourhood science centres and natural settings such as a forest, a beach or a national park.

Providing students with high quality learning activities in relevant situations beyond the walls of the classroom is vital for helping students appreciate their first hand experiences from a variety of different perspectives. Experiences outside the classroom also enhances learning by providing students with opportunities to practice skills of enquiry, values analysis and clarification and problem solving in everyday situations.

However, taking students outside the classroom requires careful planning of the learning activities and attention to the health and safety risks that might be faced. This module provides guidance on these aspects of planning for learning outside the classroom.


  • To develop an awareness of the positive impact that experiences outside the classroom can have on Education for Sustainable Development;
  • To develop an understanding of the planning, organisation and risk management required for teaching and learning outside the classroom; and
  • To identify appropriate strategies for teaching and learning outside the classroom.


  1. Learning in the local area
  2. Approaches to learning outside the classroom
  3. Planning for learning outside the classroom
  4. Risk management
  5. Reflection


_____ (2000) Focus on Fieldwork: Special Issue, Teaching Geography, 25(2).

Department for Education and Employment (1998) Health and Safety of Pupils on Educational Visits, HMSO, London.

Department for Education and Skills (2006) Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto, Learning Outside the Classroom.

Department for Education and Skills & Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2006) Laying the foundations: Using the built environment to teach.

DeWitt, J. and Storksdieck, M. (2008) A short review of school field trips: key findings from the past and implications for the future, Visitor Studies, 11(2), pp. 181-197.

Laws, K. (1989) Learning geography through fieldwork, in Fien, J., Gerber, R. and Wilson, P. (eds) The Geography Teacher’s Guide to the Classroom, 2nd edition, Macmillan, Melbourne.

Rogers, A. (ed) (1995) Taking Action: An Environmental Guide For You and Your Community, United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi.

Smith, M. (2002) Exploring a changing world: A guide to fieldwork for youth expeditions, Young Explorers Trust.


This module was written for UNESCO by Bernard Cox, Margaret Calder, John Fien and Lisa Ryan using material written by Barry Law in Learning for a Sustainable Environment (UNESCO – ACEID).

Learning in the local area

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Perspectives on Teaching and Learning Outside the Classroom

Scene: A Staff Room

Teacher A
I really must organise some fieldwork for my class. We have been studying waste management for two weeks and they really need to go and see what is being done locally.
Teacher B
Where will you go?
Teacher C
For this topic I always take my group on a bus trip to the waste treatment depot. I have worked out a good number of questions and things to point out.
Teacher B
I hate fieldwork. It always takes so much time to prepare worksheets and organise the kids. I would much rather go myself and take slides of the important features. Then I can use them in school with my class and make sure they get all their notes complete.
Teacher A
I am not going to have many question sheets for them to fill in. I want them to make accurate observations and ask their own questions.
Teacher C
Teacher A
In class the other day two students said they saw some dead fish in the river. Others said they had seen a report about this on television. They were really excited because the TV news was about the very topic they had been studying in class – and here was a local example. They want to visit the waste treatment depot to find out how wastes should be collected and treated so the poison is not put into the river any more.

Source: Adapted from Laws, K. (1989) Learning geography through fieldwork, in Fien, J., Gerber, R. and Wilson, P. (eds) The Geography Teachers’ Guide to the Classroom, 2nd edition, Macmillan, Melbourne, p. 104.

Q1: Identify the different views about learning outside the classroom held by these three teachers?

Q2: Are these views common in your school? Why?

Q3: What other views about teaching and learning outside the classroom have you heard?

Constraints on Learning Outside the Classroom

Despite the arguments in favour of learning outside the classroom, several key challenges do need to be faced:

  • Organisational factors such as the difficulty of supervising a large group of students and providing them with the assistance they may need.
  • The ‘normal’ lessons missed by teachers and students, and alterations that have to be made to the school timetable.
  • Time needed to plan a worthwhile field trip.
  • Cost of transport and accommodation, if required.
  • Lack of detailed knowledge of the locality.
  • Safety of the students.
  • Lack of necessary skills in students.

Despite these challenges it should not be forgotten that often the most meaningful and lasting learning takes place when students are actively exploring the great variety of environments outside the classroom.

Learning outside the classroom also provides opportunities for teachers and students to get to know each other better through interacting outside the structures of the classroom and school grounds.

Opportunities for Learning Outside the Classroom

Students can learn in a number of outside environments including:

  • The school grounds and environs
  • Urban centres
  • The local community
  • Rural and natural areas

Q4: Describe a learning activity appropriate in each of these four types of areas.

There are many ways in which learning outside the classroom can be integrated into the school curriculum – not just subjects such as social studies, geography and science where fieldwork is a tradition. Languages, the arts, mathematics, business and commerce and many others also lend themselves to learning outside the classroom.

For example, in language studies, the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening can be developed through a range of experiences outside the classroom.

Listening and Speaking

The School Grounds and Environs

  • Listening to sounds and identifying them.
  • Observing and discussing processes of decision making and conflict resolution.
  • Interviewing.

The Local Community

  • Visiting a police station, clinic, bank, market or park and identifying the different tones of voice that people use.
  • Visiting a youth centre, and record the different types of sounds as people go about different activities.

Urban Centres

  • Visiting an urban area and listening to the sounds of the city – a market, a railway station, a busy intersection, etc.
  • Visiting and talking with people who live or work in the city.
  • Developing a radio programme based on the sounds and voices of a town.

Rural and Natural Areas

  • Listening to the sounds of a forest, the seashore or a running stream.
  • Listening to the sounds on a farm. Ask the farmer to help you identify them.


The School Grounds and Environs

  • Reading the notice boards in the school.

The Local Community

  • Visiting the local library and using it.
  • Reading material that deals with local people and places, and relating this to learners own experiences.

Urban Centres

  • Reading the signs posted in town, from traffic signs to advertising.

Rural and Natural Areas

  • Following written instructions for individual or group activities.
  • Reading stories, poems, and non-fiction about natural history.


The School Grounds and Environs

  • Compiling a school map to guide visitors.
  • Writing a description of a day in the life of a typical student.

The Local Community

  • Recording local data for later presentation, e.g., through role play, mime, dance, or video.
  • Writing about family, community or work-related experiences.

Urban Centres

  • Writing a letter to the editor of the newspaper, about a matter of current interest.

Rural and Natural Areas

  • Writing a poem about your feelings while sitting in a beautiful natural area.

Source: Adapted from Learning Media (1992) Anywhere, Everywhere, Ministry of Education, New Zealand.

Q5: Identify some activities for learning outside the classroom in the following subject areas.

  • The arts
  • Science
  • Social studies, history and geography
  • Mathematics

Approaches to learning outside the classroom

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Objectives of Learning Outside the Classroom

Learning outside the classroom can be teacher-centered and expository, or it can be more enquiry-based and student-centered. This choice depends on the nature and objectives of the lesson.

A great range of objectives can be achieved through learning outside the classroom, including:

  • The formation of attitudes and the development of an aesthetic awareness
  • The development of understanding and knowledge
  • The development of skills.

Although the teacher holds the ultimate responsibility for what happens in any lesson, the experience of learning outside the classroom can help students develop a greater sense of their own responsibilities towards each other and the tasks on which they are working.

When planning learning outside the classroom it is necessary to match the activities selected with the objectives and purposes of the fieldwork. The selection of objectives will depend to some extent upon the timing of the fieldwork within the sequence of learning activities:

  • Early in the learning sequence, learning outside the classroom may be used for basic information gathering and increasing the motivation of students.
  • Towards the end of a unit of work, learning outside the classroom may be used to draw a number of themes together.
  • Integrated throughout a unit of work, learning outside the classroom can develop student understanding of concepts, generalisations and principles.

Approaches to Learning Outside the Classroom

Two common approaches are (i) Field Teaching and (ii) Field Research.

Field Teaching

  • Study of topic or theme in class. Teacher talk, textbook study, note taking, slide viewing, videos, etc.
  • Field observations (often teacher directed). Recording of information in the field. Some field interpretation.
  • Back in the classroom – further interpretation and explanation together – writing up field report.

This is the traditional approach to teaching and learning outside the classroom. It involves taking students to a field location and delivering a mini-lecture from which students are expected to take notes. Little opportunity exists for student input and reaction.

When done well, this approach can involve students in the careful observation and description of a scene or activity and in suggesting possible explanations based on previously acquired information.

This approach is useful if students are inexperienced in making their own observations or if they lack confidence in their ability to solve problems. This approach provides a structured way for them to find their own examples as an integral part of the learning experience.

Field Research

  • Identification of a problem as the result of direct observations; or from class work; or from special interests of students.
  • Formulation of an hypothesis as a result of reading, discussion, thinking.
  • Field activities to collect data to test hypothesis.
  • Data analysis – processing information.
  • Hypothesis testing – accept or reject.
  • Discussing and writing up of possible ways to solve the originally identified problem using information gathered in the field.

This approach represents an inductive approach to learning. It involves observation, description and explanation but with a problem solving focus. Students often use techniques similar to those used in historical enquiry, geographical research or scientific explanation. This is the inductive approach to fieldwork.

Source: Adapted from Laws, K. (1989) Learning geography through fieldwork, in Fien, J., Gerber, R. and Wilson, P. (eds) The Geography Teachers’ Guide to the Classroom, 2nd edition, Macmillan, Melbourne, pp. 105-116.

Q6: Describe a teaching example of these two approaches to learning outside the classroom.

Q7: Explain the educational advantages and disadvantages of these two approaches using these questions:

  • Is the stimulus or motivation similar in both approaches?
  • Who identifies the problem or sets the initial topic to be studied?
  • Are there hypotheses that need to be tested in both approaches?
  • What are the reasons for collecting the data? Do they differ between the two approaches?
  • Who is analysing, processing and explaining the data – the students, the teacher, or both?
  • Does the written field report generally identify ways to solve any problems?

Guided Field Research

Guided Field Research is a synthesis of Field Teaching and Field Research. It combines the teacher guidance and structure of Field Teaching with the independent research focus of Field Research.

Guided Field Research is an adapted form of field research for young students or students inexperienced in learning outdoors.

  • What students think are the answers. State this as an hypothesis.
  • Field activities to collect data to answer the questions.
  • Do students’ conclusions agree with their tentative answers from before the field activity? Why/Why not?
  • Hypothesis testing – accept or reject.
  • Discussing and writing up of possible ways to answer the questions using information gathered in the field.

Source: Adapted from Laws, K. (1989) Learning geography through fieldwork, in Fien, J., Gerber, R. and Wilson, P. (eds) The Geography Teachers’ Guide to the Classroom, 2nd edition, Macmillan, Melbourne, pp. 105-116.

Planning for learning outside the classroom

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Generally there are three stages to effective learning outside the classroom:

  • Preparation in class (pre-field stage);
  • The fieldwork itself, (field stage); and
  • Follow-up in class (post-field stage).

A key step in planning effective learning outside the classroom is identifying the tasks to be completed at these three stages of the learning process.

See a table that describes some of these tasks.

Q8: Analyse a case study of a geography class in Nepal that worked in their home village to develop a local sustainable development management plan as part of their learning outside the classroom.

  • List the things that the students would have to know before the work outside the classroom began.
  • List the skills that the students would have used in their work outside the classroom.
  • What follow-up activities were done in class?


Taking students outside the school grounds involves a wide range of preparatory administrative, safety and legal responsibilities as well as educational plans. These preparatory tasks include:

  • Familiarise yourself with the appropriate school and system policies for conducting learning experiences beyond the school grounds.
  • Pre-visit the site(s).
  • Develop clear objectives for the study.
  • Decide how you can build on previous learning experiences.
  • Plan pre-field study learning experiences and prepare students to see fieldwork as active learning.
  • Prepare fieldwork activities and resources.
  • Decide how much time is required for the tasks and for travel to and from the site.
  • Identify appropriate student/adult ratio. Parents and other community helpers may need to be invited and briefed to assist teachers with supervision.
  • Prepare background information for other staff and parent/community helpers.
  • Be aware of any possible distractions to the students at the site.
  • Identify all possible risks and manage them appropriately, ie. think through possible risks and how you will address them.
  • Organise the following:
    • Consent form for parents
    • Food requirements
    • Permission to visit the site
    • Toilet facilities
    • Finance
    • Departure and arrival times
    • Transportation
    • Insurance issues
    • Clothing and equipment

Risk management

Planning to minimise risks to the health and safety of students is an integral principle for learning outside the classroom. Risk management is the name given to the identification, assessment and reduction of these risks.

Being aware of potential risks helps us to think deeply about what we are planning to do, why we are doing it, and whether we have the skills to lead the activity safely.

Key skills for reducing the level of risk before and during activities, include:

Directive Leadership
Use directive leadership in order to reduce the risks of certain activities. Always make sure any direction is accompanied with a reason so that individuals can learn from the experience. For example, it is appropriate to ask students to:
  • Move away from rock pools that are deep and have an unsafe walking area;
  • Put on extra clothing if they are cold and exposed to the wind; and/or
  • Work together in pairs and not to move away to other areas before checking with a supervisor.
Knowing Your Students
The better you know your students the more aware you are of their capabilities, individuals needs, personalities, reactions to stress, etc. If you are aware of these things you are less likely to put students into situations which are beyond them or where the risk level is too great.

Talking About Potential Risk
This is a very important technique for reducing risks both before and during activities. It is not sufficient for a teacher to be the only one possessing the knowledge of the route or contingency plans. Good leaders reveal to the participants as much as possible about the planned activity by, for example:
  • Telling the group the name of the place they will be going to for the day, and giving them maps of the area.
  • Tell students what they should do if they are separated from the party.
  • Tell students who is carrying emergency equipment and who has first aid skills.
Teaching By Progression
This involves teaching particular skills by breaking them down into parts and building upon each one – and then increasing the complexity of the task until an eventual goal is reached. For example, in teaching map reading skills for a visit to a forest, these steps might include:
  • Step 1   -   Indoor sessions with simple maps
  • Step 2   -   Practical sessions in the immediate environment
  • Step 3   -   Indoor sessions with topographical maps
  • Step 4   -   Practical exercises in an open environment with clear boundaries
  • Step 5   -   Practical sessions in the forest environment.
This approach will ensure that students learn the skills they need so that they are less likely, for example, to get lost when participating in field trip experiences.

Developing Safety Consciousness
Safety consciousness is an ongoing process of continually evaluating, applying skills and knowledge to new and changing situations, and exercising judgment in order to prevent incidents before they ever have a chance to develop. As a teacher gains experience in working with students in the outdoors, there is usually a corresponding increase in their safety consciousness.


Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Completing the module: Look back through the activities and tasks to check that you have done them all and to change any that you think you can improve now that you have come to the end of the module.

Q9: A sustainable future requires an ethical approach towards other people and towards the natural environment. Using ideas from this module, and your own experience, write a brief statement of how you and your students will conduct yourselves while studying in the local community. This could be considered a ‘Charter for Learning Outside the Classroom’.

Q10: When planning learning outside the classroom teachers need to be aware of the risk and safety issues involved. List where you could get further advice for identifying and managing possible risks when planning field work in your community.