Research Summary

Incorporating the concept of mindfulness in informal outdoor education settings

Are Participants Losing Interest? Try Mindfulness

Journal of Experiential Education
2011

Even the most interesting outdoor education site or environmental education program can lose its appeal after multiple visits. Sometimes, educators must make a conscious effort to keep their audiences engaged or mindful. Mindfulness happens when people are actively processing information from their surrounding context, whether it’s a classroom, nature center, park, or hiking trail. According to this paper’s author, mindfulness feels like “lively awareness and involvement in the present moment.” By contrast, mindlessness is a disengagement that feels “like being on autopilot.”

This author suggests that keeping audiences mindful is likely to pay off: mindful audiences learn more, are more satisfied, and are more likely to engage in responsible environmental behaviors.

To facilitate incorporating mindfulness into outdoor education settings, the author provides the Mindfulness Model for Outdoor Education Settings. The model includes four phases. Phase One—Organization of Programming—serves as the foundation, and establishes the overriding principle that all communications between staff and participants should fall within a clear, themed structure that matches what participants already know.

Phase Two—Communication Factors to Be Used by Administrators/Staff—is the heart of the model. It lays out the following tactics that have been found to encourage mindfulness:
Introduce physical/social variety/change. Varying the program’s social nature, level of physical and mental activity, and media used can help keep people engaged.
Use multisensory techniques to convey information. Help participants use as many senses as possible during programs.
Employ novelty, conflict, or surprise to get participants’ attention. Use extreme stimuli, unexpected outcomes, and other living things (such as animals) to capture attention.
Use questions to probe participants; encourage involvement. Ask questions, use conditional language (for example, by indicating that “there is no one way to build a fire”), and offer choices to encourage creativity.
Facilitate participant control. When possible, allow the participants to control aspects of the program, as research shows that people become more mindful when they feel they have control.
Make personal connections to participants to make the program relevant. Use engaging stories and examples from participants’ everyday lives to make the program relevant to the audience.
Have a good orientation plan and system for participants. Helpful maps and signage can limit distractions from participants struggling to avoid getting lost.

Phase Three—separated into two sub-phases that deal with Participants’ Interest and Mental State—acknowledges that some participants may be predisposed to mindfulness, but the tactics listed above in Phase Two can help those who are less mindful move toward greater mindfulness.

And Phase Four—Consequences—lists the consequences of mindful learning, which include increased learning, self-esteem, satisfaction, and responsible environmental behavior.

The Bottom Line

Audiences’ attention can wander and their interest can wane for many reasons. Actively working to build mindfulness can be an effective tool for capturing the interest of audiences, resulting in more effective program outcomes. The Mindfulness Model for Outdoor Education Settings provides a framework for incorporating the concept of mindfulness in outdoor education.