Hew Yeng (Betty) Lai, Department of Biological Chemistry

Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) is fairly common in elementary and secondary education. For example, most of us can remember going on a field trip or to a museum and say, “That was fun” and learned a lot from it. However, at the college level, most courses are more traditional in the sense that most students sit in a lecture hall and listen to the professor lecturing at the podium. We ought to ask whether a traditional lecture is taught this way because of its convenience. In addition, is it really the best way for students to learn?

Many students have reported that their college experience is enhanced by their extracurricular activities. Therefore, it is plausible to think that instructors can incorporate LOtC in a college course. After all, the goals of students going to college are to gain knowledge and acquire skills that can be useful in the real world. To illustrate, here are some discipline-specific LOtC ideas that instructors can incorporate in their courses.

Field Trips

Field trips can enhance students’ learning experience. For example, biology students often fail to understand the importance of learning ecology and evolutionary biology if they are not pursuing that field. Instructors teaching general biology class can take students on a field trip such as going on a hike to learn about the climate of the area and how different types of organisms adapt to that environment. While students gain an appreciation for this field of study, they will also be able to connect this concept to other fields in biology and develop critical thinking skills.

Service-Learning Trips

Students can benefit from doing community service while simultaneously learning in a real-world setting. For example, service-learning trips can be integrated in sociology courses where students can learn about the community they study. Students can develop civil awareness while exploring ways to contribute to the community. This experience can also promote self-discovery, personal development, and leadership skills.

Language Learning Outside the Classroom

For language learning classes, the ultimate goal is to be fluent in that language and be able to communicate well. Besides having students practice with each other, they can also learn from speaking in the native community. Instructors can take the students to a community with people who are willing to interact with them. For example, they can go to a cultural center or cultural events to learn the language and experience the culture.

Technology Outside the Classroom

There is a limit to learning in a classroom, especially when students are learning about new technology. Students taking classes in engineering could appreciate the opportunity to see the newest machinery in real life rather than from a picture. For instance, a company tour or an expo/convention.


Students learn better when they are engaged and motivated. To this end, LOtC promotes active learning and student interaction. Learning becomes more meaningful and relevant as students gain critical thinking skills and leadership skills outside the classroom. Some of the challenges in implementing LOtC may include extensive planning and financial burden. However, it doesn’t have to be intensive and costly. These types of activities can be used just once or a few times in a course and can be done locally. Students can apply what they have learned in the classroom to real world settings. Instructors can also give assessments by having students write reflection papers or give presentations. In fact, this add a new type of assessment to break away from the traditional written or multiple-choice exam. The ultimate takeaway: learn outside of the classroom and think outside the box.


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Becker, C., Lauterbach, G., Spengler, S., Dettweiler, U., & Mess, F. (2017). Effects of Regular Classes in Outdoor Education Settings: A Systematic Review on Students’ Learning, Social and Health Dimensions. International journal of environmental research and public health14(5), 485. 

Mooney, L.A., Edwards, B. (2013). Experiential Learning in Sociology: Service Learning and Other Community-Based Learning Initiatives. American Sociological Association. 29: 181-194.

Ash, S. L., Clayton, P. H., & Atkinson, M. P. (2005). Integrating reflection and assessment to capture and improve student learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 2005, 49-60. 

O’Byrne, K., Alva, S. A. (2002). Service-learning in a learning community: The Fullerton first-year program. In Service-Learning and The First-Year Experience: Preparing Students for Personal Success and Civic Responsibility (Monograph No. 34). Ed. Edward Zlotkowski. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. 115-124.

Leiser, J. K., & Reilley, E. (2011). Connecting Academic Disciplines and Community through Service Learning: A Model from Sociology and Biology.

Kuh, G. D. (1993). In Their Own Words: What Students Learn Outside the Classroom. American Educational Research Journal30(2), 277–304. 

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on June 10th, 2019.