Skip to main content


Welcome! This week, we’re chatting about the environment and learning. Specifically, we’re seeking out answers to the following:

  • Does indoor temperature affect our learning ability?
  • Is outdoor education an effective way to improve motivation?

Too Cold to Learn? 🥶

I don’t know about you, but I’m someone that gets warm fast. If the temperature bumps above 74° F, I’m sweating and you’ll know. That said, usually when it’s in the high 60s wherever I’m working, people around me look like this:

Does the temperature affect our learning though?

Past research illustrates a relationship between “thermal dissatisfaction” and motivation to learn/concentration (Jiang et al., 2018; Wang et al., 2018). Since motivation and concentration are both related to learning outcomes, the current study wanted to investigate if a direct relationship existed (Kim et al., 2020).

In order to properly control for thermal conditions, the research took place in a climate chamber. Each participant went through all 5 temperature conditions in the climate chamber: cool, slightly cool, neutral, slightly warm, and warm. Since each participant went through all thermal conditions, the order was randomly assigned (Kim et al., 2020). Further, participants’ psychophysiological responses were measured with an EEG while in the chamber. Responses were coded, via plugging EEG responses into various equations, into 4 categories: mental workload, mental stress, alertness, and mental fatigue (Kim et al., 2020). We won’t go into it here, but the equations they used for this based on brain regions with the EEG were interesting. While in the chamber, participants completed computer-based cognitive tasks to evaluate attention, perceptual ability, working memory, and executive ability. The tasks were the go/no-go reaction time, fast-counting, n-back, and Stroop tasks, respectively - all of which can be found here if you’d like to check them out! Lastly, a questionnaire developed by NASA 🚀 to evaluate task load after each temperature setting was collected (Kim et al., 2020).

Results showed that when the thermal environment gets colder, alertness significantly increases. Further, mental workload increased when the temperature changed from neutral to either cool or warm. In warm temperatures, there was a significant negative relationship between alertness and working memory. However, in cool, there was a significant negative relationship between executive ability and mental workload, alertness, and mental fatigue (Kim et al., 2020). Overall, they found the highest learning performance to be at 25.7° C (78.3° F). At 17° C (62.6° F), learning decreased by almost 10%, while at 33° C (91.4° F) it decreased by 7% (Kim et al., 2020). While the temperature itself may not directly impact learning, it does seem to lead to psychophysiological responses that increase task load (Kim et al., 2020).

Note: Remember, this was done in a climate chamber, not in a learning setting. But - this is science, folks! This type of setting allows researchers to reduce confounds and make causal inferences, but comes with the drawback of not taking place in a natural setting. Ideally, more research should be done in a more naturalistic setting to verify the findings.

Key Takeaway(s): Thermal conditions (temperature) do appear to impact learners’ task load, which can affect learning performance. Kim et al. (2020) found the highest learning performance to occur at 25.7° C (78.3° F), with decreases when hotter (33° C / 91.4° F) or colder (17° C / 62.6° F).

Read More ($): Kim, H., Hong, T., Kim, J., & Yeom, S. (2020). A psychophysiological effect of indoor thermal condition on college students’ learning performance through EEF measurement. Building and Environment, 184.

“Occasional but regular practical (outdoor) learning sessions encourage students’ interest in science by fostering autonomy, self-perceived competence, and student-teacher relatedness, and they contribute to sustain their interest in science.”
- Deitweiler et al. (2017)

The Great Outdoors 🏕️

We’ll keep our second article review short since our first one was long and this article is open access 🙌

Dettweiler et al. (2017) aimed to evaluate the relationship between learners’ basic psychological needs and self-determination in an outdoor education intervention. This study was conducted with young learners, around 12 to 13 years old - so this should be kept in mind regarding generalizability. However, as we’ll mention later, it still likely has implications for adult learning!

Learners participated in a one week course on conducting research (research on research… so meta 🌀). Before and after the course, learners completed a self-determination index, as well as a questionnaire on basic psychological needs (BPN), covering “autonomy support, the learners’ experience of competence, and relatedness” (Dettweiler et al., 2017). Learners also responded to an open-ended survey and participated in an interview about their overall experience with the intervention, providing robust qualitative data!

Results showed that basic needs satisfaction was significantly higher for outdoors than for indoors 🌲. Motivational behaviors were mostly impacted by autonomy- and competence-support. The authors suggest that feeling a sense of competence and autonomy encourages learners to engage in explorative learning (Dettweiler et al., 2017). While this work was done with young learners, we also know that confidence is related to learning orientation for adult learners (Hiu Kan Wong et al., 2022). Student-teacher relationship also played a role in motivational behavior, which is similar to findings in the adult literature regarding employee-manager relationship (see: LSW Issue #72).

Key Takeaway(s): Outdoor education can foster autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These factors can also increase motivational behaviors! Reminder: this study was conducted with young learners, so more research is needed for adult learners.

Read More (Open): Dettweiler, U., Lauterbach, G., Becker, C., & Simon, P. (2017). A Bayesian Mixed-Methods Analysis of Basic Psychological Needs Satisfaction through Outdoor Learning and Its Influence on Motivational Behavior in Science Class. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(2235).

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Thanks for coming through with some beautiful fur-babies, fam! Keep them coming 💪

This week, reader Stephen N. was kind enough to share with us the cutest little snuggle-buggle! “Here’s Leonard, our rescue from Puerto Rico (Old San Juan). He’s big on sleep as a classroom performance enhancement tool.” 💤

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Katie Erhardt, Ph.D.

Have something to share? Want to see something in next week's issue? Send your suggestions: