Can Studying Outside Help You Retain More Information?

It has long been suggested to students that study time should take place in a quiet, clean area, tucked away from noise and distractions. However, scientists and psychologists alike are finding that all the tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years on how to maximize studying and retain more information may not be all they’re cracked up to be. In fact, some methods that teachers and parents have been utilizing for decades are actually proving to be unhelpful and not at all beneficial.

Short Answer – It Depends

As it turns out, the answer to this question is a resounding “it depends.” It depends on who you talk to, who is studying, what they’re studying, and so on. Some experts stand by their claims that studying in the same quiet and calm space every single day is the key to academic success. But in most cases, experts are finding that mixing up studying locations, including some outside areas, can hugely benefit students of all ages.

In some cases, it depends on who the individual is that is studying. Some students may be so distracted by outside noises, sights, and smells that they cannot focus on their schoolwork at all. Other students may be so relaxed outdoors that they are more likely to drift off to sleep than actually learn anything from their notes or a textbook. But for most individuals, studying outside can break up the norm of indoor cram sessions, and it can actually do wonders for the way your brain works due to the change in environment.

Pros of Studying Outside

There are some very definitive benefits to studying outside, but as with most things, individuals should weigh the pros and cons and maybe even embark in some trial and error experiments to see if the positives outweigh the negatives. Here are our top pros for outdoor studying:

  • Enhance Creativity – Even if you’re studying something more logical and less creative, being outside breathing in fresh air actually changes the way your brain works and makes creativity and the retention of new thoughts and ideas more likely. Being outdoors also boosts your mood, increases your natural energy, improves problem-solving skills, and reduces stress.
  • No In-Home Distractions – Whether you’re a neat freak or a serial snacker or an avid TV watcher, being outdoors removes all of your in-home distractions that so easily steal your precious study time. Add to that no Wi-Fi, and even your phone becomes somewhat distraction-free, which is a big plus during times when you really need to buckle down and focus.
  • Ambient Noise – While these can become a distraction and therefore a con, minimal amounts of ambient noise are beneficial for studying, focusing, and retention.
  • A New Environment – Sometimes, you just need change. Especially if you’ve been studying in the same space for several hours or days, mixing it up can be hugely beneficial for your energy and your focus. Going outside brings a fresh, new environment that is good for the body, soul, and brain.

Cons of Studying Outside

As mentioned above, studying outside is not for everyone. If you have seasonal allergies or are a passionate people watcher, being indoors in a small and quiet room is probably better for you. But as you consider the pros listed above, take a look at the cons of studying outside and weigh them against the benefits that apply to you.

  • Lack of Internet Access – While this was also listed as a pro, you have to keep in mind what your internet accessibility needs will be during each study session. If you only need your textbook and some notes, going outside won’t be an issue. But many students find themselves looking up detailed explanations of confusing concepts or Googling unfamiliar terms during study sessions, so lack of internet access may be a deal-breaker for you.
  • Uncomfortable – Whether you hate sitting on grass, you sunburn easily, or you sneeze every time the wind blows, being outside may simply be too uncomfortable for you to be productive. If the temperature is too warm or too hot, there is nowhere to sit that’s comfortable, or you are constantly fending off flies, bees, and ants, you may be better off staying inside whether the elements are more easily controlled and predictable.
  • Far from Luxuries – This may not apply to everyone depending on your personal preference or location of outdoor space, but you may be too far from a bathroom, a glass of water, or a snack when you’re studying outside, and that can ruin the effectiveness of the experience. When your location becomes more of a hindrance than a help, it may not be the best option for studying locations.

Tips to Study Outside Effectively

If you’re ready to take the plunge and plan your next outdoor study session, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. It will benefit you to go through all of the pros and cons and see what you can do to intensify the pros and minimize the cons. Take a jacket or find a shady spot if you’re concerned about temperatures, for example. Bring some snacks and a water bottle, but be sure you have a bathroom in close proximity. Plan ahead by bringing all of your study materials and accounting for the lack of internet access that you’ll have. You will get more out of the study time if you’re best prepared for whatever may come your way and can make the best use of your time. Here are some other specific tips to study outside more effectively.

Find the Right Location

This goes along with some of what was mentioned above, but finding the right location may take some trial and error. You may think that bench in the local park is a great place to study, but once you sit down you find that birds flock to it constantly looking for food. Or you may find an amazing location the first time you study outside, but when you go back for a second study session, other people are in your perfect spot. Consider the elements and what’s important to you in a good study location, and try out a few places. It’s good to mix up your physical location too, so maybe switching it up every hour or trying a different outdoor spot each time will help.

Ensure Good Lighting

You may not be focused on lighting when you first head outdoors, but this is definitely something you need to consider when you’re scoping out a location. You may want direct sunlight to keep you warm on a chilly day, but if you’re studying on a computer or tablet, it may be hard to see well in the bright light. At the same time, finding an area too dark or shaded may not be conducive to good focus or being able to see your study materials well.

Mix It Up

Having an idea of where you want to study is always a great idea, but be prepared to mix it up a bit if you need to. Maybe the shade moves and messes with your lighting, or maybe a sports practice takes place in the middle of your study time. Don’t be afraid to change up your location or your approach to studying, even in the middle of your study session. Remember that each time you go outdoors to study, you may need a different location and even different materials. Maybe today you can sit at a picnic table but tomorrow you’ll need a blanket to lay out on the grass. Also remember that studying math versus studying history versus studying science are going to require different levels of creativity and focus, so you’ll need to be able to adapt in each situation.

Minimize Distractions

This is always a key factor in studying, but because the great outdoors can come with a wide variety of unpredictable and uncontrollable distractions, you need to be as prepared as possible to be flexible and acclimate to different situations. If you need to study with music and headphones to avoid being distracted by ambient noises, be prepared to do that. If you know that a group of chatty teens always hang out in a certain area at a certain time, try to avoid that space to minimize your distractions. Be cognizant of what distracts you and be mindful in the moment of how focused you are.