A Natural Learning Habitat – #DesignPopUp 2020

24.8.2020 News

On Thursday 27th August, we are taking part in a Design Pop Up which asks: Can we improve the connection to nature across our learning environments and create more effective settings that prioritise learner well-being? 

Our colleague Karen Nugent is one of four guest speakers at the event and her viewpoint that she will be sharing is outlined below.

A growing body of research supports what we instinctively know, learning outdoors in nature is good for our well-being. It can improve our recovery from stress, cognitive function and creativity. Parallel research into how environments affect our capacity to learn, shows the importance of air quality, lighting and acoustics. Can we bring these bodies of research together to improve the connection to nature across our learning environments and create more effective settings that prioritise learner well-being?

The lockdown magnified the importance of access to outdoor space from our homes and the inequalities that currently exist. Home schooling was probably a bit easier if you had a garden as a release valve. Many of us found respite from the stress and anxiety in our permitted daily walks for exercise, reinforcing the importance of our public parks and greenways. As we start to see a return to school and campus it seems a good moment to take stock of our learning environments.

Outdoor learning has been a hot topic in early years and primary school education for some time, the growing mental health issues of older pupils and students perhaps indicate a need to extend that concern across all education settings. As designers we can’t change the curriculum or pedagogic approach but we can remove barriers to make going outdoors easier, we can design integrated landscape settings and design indoor environments that support the natural physical and psychological needs of their inhabitants.

Reviewing research on the benefits of being outdoors in nature, shows that it has a softer impact on our senses than the built environment, rather than demanding our attention, it can gently stimulate our interest and curiosity. Perhaps this gives us a clue as designers about how to shape the habitats we are creating inside, finding a natural balance in the characteristics of the space. Improving the quality of light, air and sound can have a dramatic impact on learning, so too can making spaces that flex to different user needs and balance stimulation with space for calm. New facilities embrace these principles but we need to apply them to existing spaces too and ensure every learning space supports the growth of its inhabitants.

The other speakers at the event are:

Jill Stevenson, Dean for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Stirling

Stephen Long, Senior Associate Director (Education), Scottish Future Trust

Diarmaid Lawlor, Associate Director at Scottish Future Trust

The speakers will share their experience at policy level, what they have learned from other places and how these ideas are applied in higher education.

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