Learning Outside of the Classroom

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As a college student with a full schedule, it can be easy to fall into the same patterns when it comes to free time. Go home. Do homework. Scroll through Instagram. Watch Netflix. Eat Ramen. Sleep. Repeat.

While we all need this kind of downtime once in a while, it can be easy to become stuck in this mindless cycle of activities that makes working up the energy to go back to class that much harder. School suddenly becomes the central focus of life, and while that can be a good mindset to have, it needs to be balanced out with activities that stimulate cognition in the brain. One of the best ways to do that is by making an effort to learn outside the classroom.

In a study titled “The Synapse Project,” it was found that participants who learned new hobbies like photography or quilting were able to enhance their cognitive ability. According to the study’s findings, “sustained engagement in cognitively demanding, novel activities enhances memory function in older adulthood.” While this study was conducted among older adults, the benefits of its findings can still be applied to younger individuals. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “any mentally stimulating activity” helps in “developing neurological plasticity” in the brain, which improves its ability to take in new information.

One thing students can do to actively learn outside the classroom is replace scrolling through social media between classes with reading a book they find interesting. While looking at social media requires little brain activity, reading interacts with the language regions of the brain, as well as the sensory cortex. When reading words related to scents or textures, the sensory cortex is activated and helps promote the immersion of readers into the story, explaining why “the experience of reading can feel so alive.” Books of any genre can open up the minds of students to learning about subjects they are interested in.

While reading can be done in shorter spans of time, there are more long-term activities that students can engage in on campus that promote outside-of-class learning. For example, The Craft Center offers a wide selection of workshops each term that students can enroll in to learn a variety of skills. Woodworking, sculpture, ceramics, glassblowing and painting are just some of the workshops that are offered. The best time to register is within the first three weeks of the term because more spots are likely to be available.

To engage both the mind and body in outside-of-class learning, the Group X classes at the Rec Center provide such opportunities to students. Like The Craft Center, classes change each term. They each cost $8, but there is also the option of getting an unlimited pass for the term for only $35. Classes taught include dancing, cycling, Zumba, strength training, yoga and more. With duration times from 45 minutes to an hour, classes will not take too much time out of a student’s schedule while still providing a chance to learn new physical skills.

Trying to allot time for learning outside the classroom may seem to be a stress on a schedule, but it is a stress necessary to improve cognitive health. Whether it is by reading a book, learning to paint or taking Zumba lessons, students deserve the chance to participate in activities they care about. The things they learn might not help them get a degree, but they will teach them about the things they are good at that one cannot assign a grade to.