Studying Outside 101

Students studying in grass at park

While you’re getting ready to head off to college, you may have come across lots of tips for studying effectively, such as using noise-canceling headphones, creating a designated study space or forming a study group. What about studying outside vs. inside? Studying outside can offer considerable benefits, but it’s important to be aware that there can also be a potential for greater distractions. Learn about the benefits of studying outside and get some actionable tips to follow here.

In This Article:

The Benefits of Learning Outdoors

It can be very easy to spend most of your day indoors. Between attending lectures and doing your homework, you might not spend much more time outside beyond the few minutes it takes to walk from one campus building to another. Studying outside has many benefits, as us humans are meant to spend more time outside in the natural world.

It can be a smart idea to spend some of your study time outdoors. If you’re still on the fence about studying outside vs. inside, consider the following benefits of taking your books outdoors.

Greater Motivation When Studying Outside

There is an important difference between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Think back to when you were younger. You may have had a grade-school teacher who rewarded good grades with stickers. That is an example of extrinsic motivation — working toward a goal for the sake of an external reward.

On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is the desire to learn something, do something or accomplish a goal purely because you want to do it. Think about the hobbies you enjoy. Perhaps you love to swim, for example. You don’t go swimming because someone else will reward you for it; swimming is its own reward. That is an example of intrinsic motivation.

Research suggests that outdoor learning activities are an effective way to boost a student’s intrinsic motivation. Why is this important? If you feel intrinsically motivated to do something, you’ll be more likely to enjoy it — and if you enjoy it, you may be more likely to put a lot of effort into it.

Studying Outside Can Decrease Stress

Stress can be a major challenge for college students. Heading off to college represents a significant transition in your life. You’re learning how to be more independent and how to navigate the world on your own, which involves juggling a lot of responsibilities — from choosing a career to caring for your own health to completing your coursework on time.

It can be a stressful time, but there are effective ways to mitigate the stress. In addition to stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing and regular physical exercise, you might consider the benefits of learning outdoors. By measuring cortisol (stress hormone) levels in study participants, researchers have found that individuals who spend more time outdoors tend to be less stressed than those who stay indoors.1

Better Sleep

Another issue that college students tend to struggle with is sleep quantity and quality. If you’re staying up late — regardless of whether you’re studying for an exam or just having fun with friends — your alertness and overall health may suffer. In addition to its other benefits, studying outside and spending more time in the fresh air can also help you sleep better.

Indeed, researchers have found that spending time outdoors can help reset your body’s natural clock, which can address insomnia and enable individuals to get more high-quality sleep at night.2 It’s always best to try to maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule while you’re in college — as well as in your life after graduation.

Enhanced Mental Health

College students are often under significant pressure. They are trying to find their way in the world, and it can sometimes be tough. If you’re feeling anxious or depressed, getting into the habit of studying outside could be one way to lift your spirits. Research indicates that spending time outdoors and connecting with the natural world can improve a person’s mental health.3

More Energy By Spending Time Outside

Stress and changes in sleeping and eating habits can negatively affect a college student’s energy. If you’ve been feeling a bit worn out lately, consider studying outside instead of heading to a coffee shop. Research suggests that spending just 20 minutes outside can provide the same energy boost as a cup of coffee.4

Greater Cognitive Abilities

What college student wouldn’t love to have stronger cognitive abilities? If you’re finding it difficult to concentrate while staring at a screen, it may be a good time to try studying outside instead.

Researchers have examined the cognitive abilities of children and adults in urban areas who have either considerable or little access to natural, green spaces. They’ve found that those who have greater exposure to natural environments are more likely to demonstrate greater cognitive flexibility, working memory and ability to concentrate.5

How To Study Outside: Actionable Tips To Follow

Now that you understand the compelling benefits of studying outside vs. inside, you may be fired up to give it a try. There really is no right or wrong way to study outside. However, there are a few steps you can follow to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible and ready to dive into your textbooks.

First, you’ll need to pick the best spot outdoors to study. Some students need their surroundings to be as quiet and free of distractions as possible, whereas others don’t mind sitting on a patch of grass with plenty of passersby surrounding them.

At Grand Canyon University (GCU), there are lots of outdoor seating areas available, such as those near the Lope Shop or outside Kaibab, in addition to other designated study spaces. There are tables and benches in the quad, as well as multiple grassy fields to choose from. 

Once you’ve found the ideal outdoor study space for you, you’ll want to arrive prepared with a few items to make yourself more comfortable. If you aren’t planning on sitting at a table or on a bench, you might want to bring a picnic blanket or even just a beach towel to spread out on the ground. Some students have even been known to string up hammocks between trees. Or, you could simply sit down on the grass under a tree to get some shade.

Next, follow these tips for optimum outdoor study time:

  • Bring water and a snack. After you’ve gotten comfortable outdoors, you won’t want to get up again to look for refreshments until you’re done with your studying.
  • Turn off your phone. Your smartphone can be too much of a distraction for any study session, inside or outside. Plus, when studying outdoors, it’s best to look up from your books every now and then to watch the birds or enjoy the breeze, rather than checking your social media.
  • Invite a friend or two. Consider turning your solo study session into a group outing and experience the benefits of learning outdoors together.

You can find an enriching campus experience at GCU that supports your success, no matter which of our varied degree programs you choose to enroll in. From studying outside on our campus at places like the quad, a grassy field or your apartment courtyard, you’ll find plenty of places where you can make progress toward your degree. Fill out the form on this page to learn more about joining our learning community in Arizona.


1 Densworth, L. (2019, February 9). The Benefits of Learning Outdoors. Psychology Today. Retrieved April 20, 2023.

2 Norton, A. (2017, February 2). Time Outdoors May Deliver Better Sleep. WebMD. Retrieved April 20, 2023.

3 Harvard School of Public Health. (2022, June 24). Boost your mental health by spending time outside. Harvard School of Public Health. Retrieved April 20, 2023.

4 Mental Floss. (2015, November 1). 11 Scientific Benefits of Being Outdoors. Mental Floss. Retrieved April 20, 2023. 

5 Weir, K. (2020, April 1). Nurtured by Nature. American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 20, 2023. 


Approved by the assistant vice president of GCU Marketing on June 9, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.