students walking in the forest in summer

Pupils develop by learning in nature

School pupils learn more from outdoor teaching than how to handle a portable stove and how to dress according to weather. In her dissertation, Åsa Tugetam, Linnaeus University, shows that, through what she calls the pedagogy of contrasts, learning takes place that, among other things, contribute to identity development and social interaction.

​What learning processes take shape at outdoor teaching? Åsa Tugetam wanted to answer this in her dissertation Att göra och erfara friluftsliv. She has followed two upper secondary school classes over time, with focus on the part of their education that consists of a one-week hike in the Swedish mountains. The result, which is based on, among other things, interviews, video recordings, and the pupils’ logbooks, shows that the pupils’ change of environment (from school environment to mountain environment) is an important factor. Location becomes important, as it seems to play a role that there is a contrast to the context of everyday life.

“Pushing one’s boundaries for what is perceived as possible and to measure oneself outside the context of everyday life contributes to learning and identity development. What is more, theoretical knowledge became something different on location compared to what it was in the classroom”, Åsa Tugetam explains.

The dissertation also shows that the pupils, during their one-week hike, experienced aspects of themselves that they did not have to handle to the same extent in their everyday school life. When taking part in outdoor teaching, the pupils did not have the possibility to “check out” and go home. As a result, they had to find out what they could and could not manage, do or feel in relation to outdoor life.

“In this way, the pupils develop an understanding of new competences that they link to questions relating to identity and physical abilities”, says Tugetam.

The result from the dissertation also shows that when the pupils were at an unknown location, of which they had no previous experience, it became necessary to collaborate with other pupils.

“What I reacted to was how descriptive and detailed the pupils’ accounts were, of how their new experiences and perspectives had contributed to their identity development and their social development, and how the experience had given them new perspectives on their everyday life at home”, Tugetam continues.

Åsa Tugetam will continue to conduct research on outdoor life, among other things, on the significance of a location for learning. Besides, the pandemic has put outdoor life on the agenda in a new way. For many, spending time together outdoors has become the only way to enjoy social interaction.

“This opens up for many new research topics within the field of outdoor life”, Åsa Tugetam concludes.