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Guide To Designing Outdoor Learning Environments For Colleges

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An outdoor learning environment offers various benefits. They’re an increasingly popular option for colleges and universities to introduce immersive and unique learning experiences for students. For many campuses, outdoor learning has become a top feature that attracts incoming students everywhere.

When designing an effective outdoor classroom, it’s essential to consider a college’s unique program needs. An outdoor classroom can foster a positive learning atmosphere for students while catering to their specific studies. Explore our guide to outdoor learning environments for colleges to learn more about the current trends and benefits of outdoor classrooms.

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As universities continue to grow and develop, outdoor learning has become an increasingly popular option. Many universities look to create outdoor areas that can serve as a comfortable and engaging classroom. While indoor and outdoor classrooms serve similar purposes, each classroom’s overall trends and needs can vary greatly.

For example, outdoor classrooms feature an open, inviting design, but still provide basic amenities, such as a cool, shaded spot under a fabric roof or canopy. When creating an outdoor learning area, additional considerations should be included in an outdoor classroom’s overall design.

1. Multi-Purpose Areas

Many colleges and universities design multifunctional outdoor learning areas. While the primary purpose of an outdoor classroom is for education, it is also a useful area to hold other campus-related activities, including small ceremonies, assemblies, performances, meetings, and more. Additionally, an outdoor classroom can be a place for students to gather, study, and continue classwork when they are not in lectures or workshops.

2. Hybrid Learning

These days, numerous colleges and universities are embracing hybrid learning, which combines traditional classrooms with lectures in outdoor learning areas or other forms of non-traditional classrooms. Diversifying how professors hold classes can create a new dynamic and engaging experience for students.

Additionally, outdoor learning areas are beneficial for larger universities that may have thousands of students. Extending traditional classrooms to the outdoors can offer more space for students to learn and diversify how teachers can hold classes. Hybrid learning can combine the best aspects from indoor and outdoor classrooms for a successful learning experience.

3. Landscape Architecture

Landscaping plays an important role when designing an outdoor learning area. Universities have to first consider the area they wish to develop into an outdoor classroom and/or multipurpose space. In addition to considering the immediate area to develop, it is essential to think about the surrounding areas that will complement an outdoor classroom.

For example, many universities may place additional gardens, trees, or other landscaping elements around an outdoor classroom. Landscaping can further improve a learning area by creating extra shade, privacy, and visually appealing plants and flowers. Finally, landscaping plays a vital role in the overall appearance of your outdoor classroom and can be a factor that some college students may think about when considering your university.

4. Overall Aesthetics

Campus aesthetics have always been an important aspect that universities have considered when starting a project. An appealing campus with impressive buildings and landscaping will gain many potential students’ attention. An essential element a college may consider is the overall aesthetic when building outdoor classrooms.

While functionality is key to any successful classroom, an outdoor learning area must also blend visual aesthetics with a functional learning space. Many colleges are looking to create unique and compelling outdoor classrooms that are the perfect blend of practical and appealing visuals.

Designing Outdoor College Environments

Outdoor learning areas extend indoor lecture halls and classrooms to outdoor spaces and provide additional space for students to learn. Students who participate in outdoor education programs have higher levels of intrinsic motivation to learn and feel more confident. Outdoor learning offers various benefits and can be a unique, engaging experience for students and teachers alike.It is essential to consider the primary function of the space. Our guide to outdoor learning environments offers nine critical steps to remember when designing an outdoor classroom.

1. Classroom Needs

The first step to creating an effective outdoor learning environment is understanding the particular program needs that a college has. Consider what purpose the space serves, how many students the classroom will need to accommodate, and any special amenities that the outdoor learning area may need to be as effective as possible.

For example, a university that focuses on arts may prioritize an outdoor learning space with a view that inspires creativity. Customizing spaces to the specific needs of your university can be an insightful step that can help with the design of a more effective outdoor learning space for students.

2. Design Brief

During a design brief, it is vital to consider the goals that an outdoor learning environment is trying to accomplish so you can create an ideal learning environment. A design brief will showcase how the outdoor classroom will look. Brainstorming and comparing different possibilities and choices can help you refine your design brief.

While there are almost endless possibilities to choose from when designing an outdoor space, the design brief stage can help fine-tune these ideas and select which options are the best fit for your particular project. During this stage, architects can ask additional questions as they continue to developed the design brief. This guide will play a role throughout the construction of an outdoor learning area.

3. Shade Spots

When designing an outdoor learning space, many architects and landscape architects consider commercial shade structures to enhance outdoor classrooms. Shade structures are a unique architectural element that provides shade for outdoor classrooms and keeps students and staff comfortable during a warm day. Shade structures are fully customizable and can accommodate the specific needs of outdoor learning colleges.

In addition to added shade, shade structures also enhance the overall aesthetic of a college campus and can act as a community hub outside of lectures. Many college administrators choose to install shade structures as they’re a unique selling point for potential students. Shade structures often act as a campus anchor and a recognizable feature for students to study or relax outside of class.

4. Seating Flexibility

Seating is a priority for any classroom, whether it is indoors or outdoors. Aim to create an outdoor learning space that has seating flexibility. Flexible seating can achieve an outdoor learning space that accommodates small and large classrooms alike. While many different professors and group sizes may need to use this space, it’s best to design an outdoor learning space that’s functional for groups of all sizes.

Another benefit of flexible seating for outdoor classrooms is that the classroom can be helpful for several different functions, including presentations, meetings, or other campus-related activities. Achieving an outdoor learning space suitable for small and large classes can create a versatile and multifunctional space.

5. Accessibility

Designing accessible learning spaces ensures all students have equal and comfortable access to outdoor learning spaces and amenities. If an outdoor learning environment isn’t designed with accessibility in mind, not all students and staff can benefit from the various advantages the outdoor classroom offers.

When designing an outdoor classroom, it is important to consider students of different abilities and what they may need in a classroom to learn adequately. On average, 61 million adults in the U.S. live with a disability. Designing a physically accessible outdoor learning environment is essential to offer an equitable space for learning and collaboration.

6. Multi-Purpose Area

Many universities choose to design outdoor classrooms to serve many purposes and act as an area that can also be useful outside traditional classes. Outdoor classrooms with shade structures often serve as an anchor or focal point of the college and can be a unique area that students visit in their free time.

Additionally, outdoor learning areas may also be functional spaces to hold various campus activities. College groups can also benefit from outdoor classrooms as a place to hold meetings or discuss events.

7. Design

After considering various aspects of your design brief, it is time to move on to a more in-depth design process to determine the exact design plan you want to pursue. There are many steps to the design process, including pre-design, conceptual design, and design development.

Each step of the design process provides an opportunity to fine-tune your design and make slight changes that can create a more effective outdoor learning space. When designing outdoor college environments, the design plan is the guide you’ll follow throughout the process of brainstorming through final construction.

8. Construction

After the design and engineering phase of an outdoor college environment, construction on your outdoor classroom. During construction, your design will be the blueprint you follow to ensure you add all the appropriate elements to your outdoor classroom. Your design is an essential reference point during the building process.

9. Routine Maintenance

While many may think construction is the last step to creating a college outdoor learning area, routine maintenance is often needed to ensure an outdoor classroom’s continued integrity and appearance. Repairs are a vital step to maintain an effective and appealing outdoor learning environment. Routine maintenance can also ensure the safety of students and staff and reduce the risk of potential accidents due to damaged or faulty design aspects.

Benefits of Outdoor Learning for Universities

There are numerous benefits of outdoor learning for college students, many of which improve focus and material absorption.

1. Improves Focus

Outdoor lessons can improve focus and promote alertness in students. A change of scenery and fresh air can be refreshing and help increase productivity in students, enhancing the learning experience. While outdoor learning can improve students’ learning experience, it can also benefit teachers and professors. On average, one to two hours of outdoor learning a week can increase teachers’ job satisfaction.

By improving students’ ability to focus, outdoor classrooms can enrich the learning experience and offer a more memorable lecture or class. Improved focus can help students retain more information, better preparing them for future exams or class-related projects.

2. Lowers Stress and Anxiety

Spending time in the sun can encourage the release of serotonin, which can boost your mood. Serotonin can help you feel calmer and more focused. Another benefit of sunlight is that it enables you to feel calmer and relaxed, reducing stress and anxiety.

Sunlight can increase serotonin levels, which can make people less likely to experience anxiety or higher stress levels. Creating a comfortable and less anxious atmosphere for learning is an essential key to helping students thrive. Additionally, lower stress and anxiety levels of professors, teachers, and staff can improve job satisfaction and enhance lessons.

3. Disconnects From Technology

Another benefit of outdoor learning universities is they can help students and teachers disconnect from technology. These days, many college students are frequently engaging with electronic devices, including their phones and computers. Disconnecting from technology can promote productivity and help students focus on the materials of the lesson.

Additionally, temporarily disengaging from technology allows students to focus on the present moment and fully immerse themselves in the material a teacher presents in class. An outdoor classroom is an excellent way to enjoy nature and the outdoors while still actively engaging in classwork.

4. Inspires Creativity

Outdoor classrooms can also inspire creativity and promote new ways of thinking. Creative learning is an excellent way for students to immerse themselves in the subject matter and discover new ways of thinking.

Creativity in learning can help students approach a topic with a different mindset they haven’t considered previously. By approaching lessons creatively, students may be able to understand the material better and absorb additional information. Designing outdoor college environments can offer students a unique perspective to learning that can be thought-provoking and engaging.

5. Promotes Health Benefits

Spending time outdoors provides various health benefits, including improved mood and raising vitamin D levels. Additional health benefits of spending time outdoors include boosting your immunity and reducing the severity of anxiety and depression. For students, a healthy body and mind are key elements for productive learning.

Additionally, time outdoors improves focus and concentration while curbing negative emotions, such as being overwhelmed or stressed. Time in nature can even promote a healthier sleep schedule, which is a fundamental aspect of a college student’s ability to learn effectively. Health improvements are just one of the many benefits of outdoor learning universities.

6. Reduces Eye Strain

Extended use of a computer, phone or another technological device can cause eye irritation or discomfort. By disconnecting from technology in an outdoor classroom, students can give their eyes a break from the harsh brightness.

When we’re staring at a screen for an extended period, we may be more likely to blink less or even shift our gaze less, resulting in drier eyes. On average, digital displays slow our blink rates significantly. Dry eyes can be uncomfortable and result in eye strain and even slower reading times. By disengaging from electronics for an outdoor lesson, students may experience increased eye comfort and reduce the potential for dry eyes or eye strain.

Shade Structures for Outdoor Learning

When creating an outdoor learning area, the most crucial element is the overall design and how you want to build the space. One of the most popular options many colleges and universities choose is to use shade structures to create an aesthetically unique and functional outdoor learning environment.

Benefits of Shade Structures

Shade structures are a unique way for colleges to set their campuses apart and attract potential students. Outdoor classrooms using shade structures offer unmatched functionality with an impressive aesthetic that can elevate the look and feel of your campus.

There are a variety of benefits that shade structures can provide your campus, professors and students.

  • Create an engaging learning environment: An outdoor learning environment serves as an extension of indoor classrooms and can provide an engaging setting for students to learn. Students can enjoy more immersive lessons and lectures with an outdoor learning area.
  • Add a functional yet stylish space: In addition to creating a functional outdoor classroom, shade structures can improve the overall aesthetics of your college campus. Shade structures are a stylish addition to a university that can complement the existing design of your campus.
  • Incorporate student-led lessons: Outdoor classrooms can also offer a special experience for student-led lessons or more hands-on activities. Allowing students to collaborate in lessons actively and leading part of a lesson can provide an opportunity for growth.
  • Increase comfortability: Shade structures offer an outdoor learning environment that can ensure professors and students are comfortable.
  • Complement accessible pathways: Outdoor classrooms with shade structures often feature accessible paths and walkways to ensure all students and faculty can enjoy the benefits of an outdoor learning area.
  • Integrate lights, video and audio: Shade structures can integrate lights, video and audio into outdoor lessons. Installing additional features can further enhance your outdoor learning area and provide teachers with additional resources to conduct an effective and immersive lesson.
  • Make a campus focal point: Shade structures often serve as a campus focal point both visually and in terms of student life. New students may be impressed or interested in your outdoor learning area. Plus, existing students may use a shade structure as a place to gather, talk, study and even relax outside of class.
  • Boost campus interest: Potential students are always looking for unique aspects of a college campus when considering where to apply. Many universities distinguish themselves with customized shade structures that offer a visually appealing and functional outdoor learning space.

Shade Structures Design Options

When building a shade structure for an outdoor learning area, you’ll have to consider which style will work best for your specific needs. Think about your campus’s existing designs and features, as you’ll want your shade structure to complement your design perfectly. Additionally, you can consider the size of the outdoor learning area you’re looking to create.

  • Squares and rectangles: Square and rectangular shade structures are a simple and cost-effective option. With a simple design, square or rectangular shade structures feature pyramid roof designs using clean, straight lines.
  • Multi-sided:Multi-sided shade structures offer a unique appearance and vibrant aesthetic. Multi-sided shade structures come in many roof shapes, including triangles, hexagons, octagons and more.
  • Sails:Premium shade sails can provide a contemporary look to your college campus. Varying column heights and commercial shade sails are available to align with your specific style.
  • Cantilever:Cantilever shade structures are ideal for campuses looking to provide shade and create an outdoor learning area with fewer columns. Many colleges also use cantilever shade structures for parking lots or to cover bleachers.
  • Single post: A single post shade structure is ideal for universities looking for smaller shade structures or areas that can’t easily accommodate multiple columns. Single post shade structures come in simple or complex styles depending on the overall design you want to achieve.
  • Specialty: Specialty shade structures are innovative modular structures. Specialty shade structures provide a contemporary look and an overall heightened architectural aesthetic.
  • Custom: Custom shade structures are fully customizable, allowing colleges and universities to achieve the perfect outdoor learning area for their space. Custom shade structures can add to your overall architectural design while creating a functional and engaging area for outdoor classes.

USA SHADE Structures for Outdoor Learning Colleges

At USA SHADE, we offer colleges and universities unique shade structures that enhance their overall design, giving students a unique and immersive learning experience. We’re pioneers and long-standing leaders in the shade structure industry and have years of experience helping colleges create unique outdoor learning areas.

We pride ourselves on providing high-quality service to all of our clients. Our team of shade structure experts designs and builds shade structures with people in mind, ensuring they’re functional and aesthetically pleasing.

View our architectural studio to learn more or request a quote to start building your outdoor learning area today.