Recently in our evolutionary history we have separated ourselves from a life immersed in nature, and since 2009, more people in the world live in urban environments than in rural environments. People spend more time indoors or in cities and less time in nature, and yet we have a deep-seated human need to affiliate with nature, known as Biophilia. So what might this mean for us as trainers and facilitators of learning?
- Flowers and plants in a workplace increase cognitive functioning and can create a 15% rise in innovative ideas and more creative, flexible problem-solving (Ulrich, 2009)
- Connection with nature has a significant positive effect on autonomy, personal growth, and purpose in life (Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy, 2011)
- When people relate to nature they experience greater feelings of vitality, regardless of levels of exercise and social activity (Ryan et al., 2010)
- People who spend 15 minutes each day in nature developed a more positive outlook than those in urban conditions (Mayer et al., 2009)
- Plants in classrooms made school children feel more comfortable, relaxed, sociable and friendly than in classrooms with no plants (Han, 2009)
- Using nature analogies and embedding experiences in a larger natural context helps people to find meaning when experiencing change (Berger & McLeod, 2006)
- People who affiliate with nature derive a greater sense of meaningful existence which in turn boosts well-being (Howell, Passmore, & Buro, 2012)
- When immersed in a natural environment, people report feeling more connected to others and to the world around them (Terhaar, 2009)
- Walking in nature improves memory by up to 20% (Berman et al.)
- People are more considerate and generous when exposed to nature (Ryan, Weinstein)
- Immersion in nature, along with disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases creative problem-solving ability by 50% (Atchley et al, 2012)
- Exposure to nature leads to improved cognitive functioning and mental well-being (Kaplan, 1993, 200)
Rachel and Stephen Kaplan found that that people concentrate better after spending time in nature, or even looking at scenes of nature, and they developed the concept of Attention Restoration Theory (ART) to explain why this is so.
They suggested that nature is filled with intriguing stimuli which gently gain our involuntary attention without us having to actively process information or control our responses. In contrast, urban environments are filled with stimulation that pull our attention dramatically in different directions by different stimuli and all this buzz means we continually have to decide where our attention should be directed and make decisions about our actions which is tiring for our brains.
In nature, people can reflect on "soft fascinations" such as clouds moving across the sky, leaves rustling in a breeze or water bubbling over rocks in a stream with no effort. This "effortless attention" is enough to engage our minds, but not so much that we need to focus our attentions or our mental processes on any key challenges, dangers or worries. This gives our directed-attention abilities a chance to rest and replenish which in turn improves cognitive processing and neural function.
As trainers it's in our interests, and the interests of our learners, to capitalise on the effects of ART as well as all the other benefits of nature in order to maximise people's learning potential. Over the years I've been developing different ways to use nature in the training that I deliver in order to enhance learning which broadly fall into 3 different approaches:
- Learning in nature
- Learning with nature
- Learning from nature
I've collected together some of my favourite tried and tested approaches and activities as well as a few speculative suggestions in a free downloadable resource Using Nature to Help People Learn. I would love to find out what other people do and to share experiences of bringing more nature into learning and for bringing more learning into nature, so please do get in touch.