by Mario D’Agostino & Francesca Salmeri
Kamaleonte Asd Aps
The covid period quickly changed the nature of training courses, many jobs, and even the way of schooling.
The health emergency situation forced both the work and education contexts to increase and make smart working, distance learning, and online training courses as accessible as possible to all …
The emergency also allowed us to become aware of the benefits and inconveniences of this change, making us appreciate aspects of either the work or education context that we took for granted. Among the benefits of the increased use of technology, we certainly saw that working, studying, or attending a training course from home allowed us to decrease the number of trips and thus CO2 emissions with a positive impact on the environment. Among the inconveniences, we could encounter physical and/or mental health ones, especially among younger people, caused by immobility and excessive use of devices, the effects of which are now sadly well known!
During this period, participants in the online courses highlighted how the lack of physical contact, spaces and informal moments of peer sharing, in many cases made the training itself unmotivating and less enjoyable. This situation led to the idea of applying for an Erasmus+ research project on the importance of informal moments in training. The project called “ I -Motion“, is aimed at understanding the value of informal moments in outdoor, indoor and online trainings with different target groups of participants. The contribution below takes its cue from an outdoor training practice carried out by Kamaleonte after a year in which in-person trainings were suspended due to covid restrictions.
In March 2021, Kamaleonte proposed a one-day outdoor training course on the topic of ” wellness in the team.” 25 adults with different backgrounds participated in the course, 7 of whom were colleagues from public administration. This team of 7, had been in smart working for a year and had not, until then, had a way to meet personally either in the office or outside the office. The ‘training activity took place in an outdoor setting immersed in nature on a beautiful sunny day. Nature did most of the work, stimulating in all participants a feeling of well-being and readiness to listen. During the morning session, a need to connect with each other in a more spontaneous way immediately emerged from the participants. The trainers thus decided to give participants an informal space of about two hours where they could decide how to use their time to explore the concept of well-being. The result of the learnings developed in the two hours was much more fruitful than the team of trainers could have imagined. During that time, most of the participants immersed themselves in nature in subgroups, some staying on the lawn, some walking on the banks of a river or in the nearby forest.
When learnings were shared, everybody highlighted the added value of the informal space in nature, as the felt emotions wouldn’t have emerged so easily in an indoor context. All experienced The informal training moment positively and made the training more enjoyable and participatory. People felt free to contribute to constructing common knowledge with their own experience. This made it clear that informal moments and spaces are essential either in learning or productive and organizational processes at work, as they stimulate a sense of belonging. For the group of seven colleagues, seeing each other again after a year in a natural setting was a strong emotional moment that allowed them to reconnect with each other, making them aware of the importance and necessity of informal moments where they can be in touch, feel good, and share. Of particular interest, however, was understanding why Nature was an added value to the training as well as to its informal moments.
In outdoor training courses, there is always a Co-Facilitator with its own soul and autonomous ability to influence mental and emotional stages and group dynamics. It’s an informal Co-Facilitator capable of enhancing learning. It’s “NATURE” itself.
For this reason, those who facilitate in nature and with nature, should know it, respect it, value it, and give it the space it needs to do its work informally, thus trusting that nature is capable of bringing out individual learning and authentic group dynamics.
The positive emotions that arise when participants experience informal moments in training in nature result in enhanced learning. “Emotion is the foundation of learning. Emotions affect what is learned and what is retained”, impacting the quality and strength of the neural trace or imprint in the brain. In other words, there must be a strong enough emotional hook for the learner to notice something and begin the learning process. This has important repercussions for the ability to recall what has been learned or experienced. What is evident from what has been written so far, is that informal moments in nature help create pleasant experiences, like feeling comfortable and, at the same time, positively challenged by the need to build relations, which promote engagement and ignite deep learning.
Those who work outdoors know perfectly well that the informal context in which the course is conducted already creates the environment for an informal atmosphere. A participant will never show up in a suit and tie or stilettos in outdoor training. Relationships among participants also become, by mirror effect less formal, more relaxed and natural. We can even dare to say that the repetitive, or ‘fractal’, patterns in nature, which awaken in us a sense of beauty, harmony and order, make us feel more at peace with ourselves and more authentic. Authenticity is the capacity to be true to oneself, to be an authentic person guided by one’s own inner principles, as a precondition for, and outcome of, spiritual experiences with nature.
The context where the course takes place has an emotional and social impact on participants. Nature is definitely an informal context rich in stimuli that can affect the emotional state of the participants. It is scientifically acknowledged that the therapeutic value of natural aromas is oxygen therapy and aroma therapy. Working on a green lawn in front of a lake on a sunny day is different than working on a boat in the middle of the sea on a stormy day. The trainer also chooses the natural context in which to work based on the goals he or she wants to achieve with the course.
Certainly, nature fosters, both as a training context and in informal moments or activities, many stimuli for well-being, individual and group learning without the need for too many structured activities. Several times in discussions with colleagues, we wondered if parts of the benefits that Nature offers to make informal moments meaningful and valuable for those learning could also be replicated in indoor or online settings.
While not as powerful, we agree that Nature can also be an informal co-trainer in Indoor and online settings.
Even during online or indoor training sessions, it is possible to use nature as a source of inspiration and relaxation to improve participants’ productivity and well-being. One way to do this could be to introduce nature-inspired breaks, during which we invite participants to take a short break, perhaps as little as five minutes, to focus on the sensations that can be experienced in the presence of nature, using outdoor materials, such as stones, leaves, water, natural elements of various kinds, or recreating the natural conditions we find outdoors. We can recreate different natural environments inside a room, a beach, an indoor forest, or even a starry sky projected on the ceiling. In the case of online, we can think about using sounds, telematic images of nature, or even, where conditions allow, inviting training participants to go outside, perhaps going for a call outside, on a balcony, or in a garden.
During informal indoor/online moments, participants might be asked to close their eyes and imagine that they are in a natural place, perhaps in a forest, on the beach, or in the mountains, and to focus on the sounds, colors, and sensations that these places evoke. In this way we can help participants to reduce stress and improve concentration, preparing them to face the rest of the training session with greater energy and focus.
We also keep in mind, that some natural elements are always available to us and do not have to be sought in an external environment. We intend to draw attention to the fact that we, as human beings are nature. Our body, for example, is the first tool we can use as natural, offering small breathing exercises, or movement exercises during an online or indoor session.
 Wolfe, P. The role of meaning and emotion in learning. In S. Johnson & K. Taylor (Eds.), The Neuroscience of adult learning (pp. 35-41). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006.
 Van den Berg, A.E., Paci, A., Kosková, H., Murn, K., Salmeri, F. & Albers, T. (2022). Nature as a Teacher in Youth Work. Manual for promoting Nature Intelligence in non-formal education programmes to connect young people with nature. Aalten: Anatta Foundation, 2023.