What does the research say about Outdoor Learning?This section provides summaries of key findings from reviews of research and
major studies in Outdoor Learning. Each review asks different questions
about a different kinds of Outdoor Learning. The overall impact of these
collections of research studies is impressive. They demonstrate what can be
achieved through Outdoor Learning. The outdoors provides a wide array of
opportunities for achieving a whole range of outcomes. Some outcomes require
careful design and facilitation, whereas other outcomes simply arise from being
outdoors - as is demonstrated in the first review below.
Health, Well-Being and
Open Space (UK)
Literature Review about the benefits of being outdoors., by Nina Morris, OPENspace Research Centre, 2003
Key points from this review of research include:
Link to full review: Health,
Well-Being and Open Space
- Exposure to the natural environment can have a negative effect on human
- Exposure and access to green spaces can also have a wide range of social,
economic, environmental and health benefits
- Urban green spaces are major contributors to the quality of the
environment and human health and well-being in inner city and suburban
- Outdoor recreation provides an opportunity to increase quality of life and
heighten social interaction.
- Physical activity in the natural environment not only aids an increased
life-span, greater well-being, fewer symptoms of depression, lower rates of
smoking and substance misuse but also an increased ability to function
better at work and home.
- Health Walk and Green Gym participants cited they stated being 'in the
countryside' and 'contact with nature' as key motivating factors to be
- Short-term strategies must begin by establishing a clearer link between
accessible urban green space and healthy living in the minds of politicians,
policy-makers ad the general public.
Wild Adventure Space (UK)
Literature Review by Penny Travlou, OPENspace Research Centre (2006)
"Experience of the outdoors and wilderness has the potential to confer a
multitude of benefits on young people’s physical development, emotional and
mental health and well being and societal development. Mental health and
wellbeing benefits from play in natural settings appear to be long-term,
realised in the form of emotional stability in young adulthood."
Link to full review: Wild
Changing Minds: The
Lasting Impact of School Trips (UK)
A study of the long-term impact of sustained relationships between schools and
the National Trust via the Guardianship scheme.
by Alan Peacock, Honorary Research Fellow, The Innovation Centre, University of
Exeter, February 2006.
‘We looked at whether school children’s learning about their local
environment would influence the way they treat it. We found that not only was
this the case, but high quality, out-of-classroom learning also influenced how
children behave and the lifestyle choices they make. It shows the potential for
schools trips not just to change individual lives, but the lives of whole
Link to full report: Changing
Minds: The Lasting Impact of School Trips
- School trips are
vital for children to connect with nature.
- School trips
- Community spirit
is developed from school trips.
- School trips help
- School trips
improve children’s learning.
A Review of Research on
by Mark Rickinson et al. Field Studies Council, 2004.
This review brought together the findings from 150 studies in the period
1993-2003 and included most kinds of Outdoor Learning.
The impact of fieldwork and visits
The impact of outdoor adventure activities
- Substantial evidence exists to indicate that
fieldwork, properly conceived, adequately planned, well taught and
effectively followed up, offers learners opportunities to develop their
knowledge and skills in ways that add value to their everyday experiences in
- Specifically, fieldwork can have a positive impact on long-term memory due
to the memorable nature of the fieldwork setting. Effective fieldwork, and
residential experience in particular, can lead to individual growth and
improvements in social skills. More importantly, there can be reinforcement
between the affective and the cognitive, with each influencing the other and
providing a bridge to higher order learning.
- See original document for more points and more detail.
The impact of school grounds/community projects
- Strong evidence of the benefits of outdoor adventure education is provided
by two meta-analyses of previous research. Looking across a wide range of
outcome measures, these studies identify not only positive effects in the
short term, but also continued gains in the long term. However, within these
broad trends, there can be considerable variation between different kinds of
programmes, and different types of outcomes.
- There is substantial research evidence to suggest that outdoor adventure
programmes can impact positively on young people's:
- attitudes, beliefs and self-perceptions - examples of outcomes
include independence, confidence, self-esteem, locus of control,
self-efficacy, personal effectiveness and coping strategies
- interpersonal and social skills - such as social effectiveness,
communication skills, group cohesion and teamwork
- See original document for more points and more detail.
The full summary also includes:
- School grounds/community projects have the capacity to link with most
curriculum areas. Two specific examples of benefits stemming from this are
positive gains in science process skills and improved understanding of
design and technology-related issues.
- In the affective domain, the most important impacts of learning in school
grounds/community settings include greater confidence, renewed pride in
community, stronger motivation toward learning, and greater sense of
belonging and responsibility
- See original document for more points and more detail.
Link to full report: A
Review of Research on Outdoor Learning
- Factors influencing outdoor learning and its provision
- Key messages for practice
- Key messages for policy
- Key messages for research
Link to: James
Neill's critical overview of this review
Youth Development Outcomes
of the Camp Experience
a study by Philliber Research Associates and the American Camping
Between 2001 and 2004 the American Camp Association conducted research with over
5000 families from 80 ACA-Accredited camps to determine the outcomes of the camp
experience as expressed by parents and children.
Parents, camp staff, and children reported significant growth in:
Self-esteem, Peer relationships, Independence, Adventure and
exploration, Leadership, Environmental awareness, Friendship
skills, Values and decisions, Social comfort, Spirituality.
Link to full study: Youth
Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience
Why Adventure? The
Role and Value of Outdoor Adventure in young people's personal and social
A Review of Research focusing on the more adventurous kinds of outdoor learning,.by Jon Barrett and Roger Greenaway commissioned by
the Foundation for Outdoor Adventure, 1995.
Most empirical studies of outdoor adventure have concentrated on
examining behavioural and psychological outcomes. Some of the most thorough
outcome research is found in the youth social work field.
- Some kinds of outdoor adventure can cause short-term enhancement of aspects of self-concept (including gains in self-esteem and
self-efficacy), and can cause short-term improvements in internalisation of locus of control. These gains appear to
be more significant on longer adventure programmes.
- Various developmental benefits are associated with regular physical exercise (such as regular outdoor adventure experiences can provide), e.g.. humour, patience, energy,
optimism, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-assurance, emotional stability,
improved body-image, etc.
- Direct experience of the natural environment, such as outdoor adventure
may offer, can have significant mental and physical health benefits, can
enhance self-esteem and self-confidence, and can provide opportunities for
- Strong anecdotal evidence indicates that outdoor adventure experiences can
enhance interpersonal relationships and improve socialisation, and can
facilitate group bonding and co-operation.
- Outdoor adventure can help to reduce formality in relationships and
develop more human relationships and awareness between young people, and
between young people and staff.
Whilst outdoor adventure can cause the
above positive developmental outcomes, it is important to note that these do notautomatically arise from outdoor
adventure. Studies investigating causal links between processes and outcomes
have rarely been conducted. Nevertheless, some process factors have emerged as
being of central importance.
Outdoor adventure programmes working with young people with
behavioural and psychological difficulties generally appear to require
higher levels of staff facilitation, close attention to appropriate selection
and targeting, and reinforcement by long-term community based interventions
appropriate to young people's interests and needs.
- Research about effective leadership
styles in adventure generally favours a facilitative style in which
personal and social development are emphasised. Research indicates that
staff require training in interpersonal skills especially if they intend to
enhance those of others.
- Research about the effects of group
experiences on personal and social development emphasises the value
of small groups in which group support, co-operation and reciprocity may be
- Appropriate selection, group mix and
composition are important, particularly with young people
experiencing difficulties in their lives.
- Research emphasises the importance of a supportive
learning environment where young people are able to (for example)
express their emotions, learn collaboratively and take responsibility for
their own development.
- The beneficial outcomes of outdoor adventure appear to be most lasting
when outdoor adventure experiences are regular and long-term and are linked to community-based
follow-up. Research has demonstrated the value of outdoor adventure
as an adjunct to community-based developmental and educational provision.
Link to further information about: Why
Adventure? The Role and Value of Outdoor Adventure in young people's personal
and social development
Summary of the Effects of
Outdoor Education Programs or "Does Outdoor Education Work?" (Australia)
James Neill, International Education Vol.3, No. 4, 1999 and revised for Wilderdom, 2006.
A meta-analysis of 97 outcome studies from around the world.
Does outdoor education work? The research evidence indicates that
the effectiveness of outdoor education programming on average is positive
and roughly equivalent to other innovative psychosocial interventions. The
overall message from the research is that outdoor education has clear potential,
if well designed, to foster enhancements of personal and social aspects of
learning and development. In addition, at least 11 factors appear to
influence what happens to participants during a program and the overall effects
of the program.
Outdoor education programs have been found to be moderately effective
in influencing typically measured outcomes, such as self-esteem and teamwork.
The most commonly researched outcomes have been self constructs such as
self-esteem, self-confidence, self-concept and self-efficacy; social constructs
such as teamwork and leadership; and other more applied outcomes such as
academic achievement and recidivism.
Link to full summary: Summary
of the Effects of Outdoor Education Programs or "Does Outdoor Education
which will lead you to a meta-analysis of 97 research studies
by John A. Hattie, Herbert W. Marsh, James T. Neill, Garry E. Richards.
Review of Educational Research, 67, 43-87, 1997.
outside the classroom: How far should you go?
A key report by OFSTED, published in 2008
This is a report that evaluates the impact
of learning outside the classroom in 27 schools and colleges across
England. Key points from the evaluation
- When planned and implemented well,
learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards
and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.
- Learning outside the classroom was
most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum
planning and closely linked to classroom activities.
Link to the full report: Learning outside the classroom: How far should you go?
education in Scotland: A summary of recent research
Robbie Nicol et al, 2007, Scottish National Heritage
summarises seven pieces of research and gives an overview of the state of
outdoor education in Scotland. It
highlights the support for outdoor provision from the Scottish Governments’
Curriculum for Excellence. It is clear from the review that outdoor education is no
longer seen as being just about adventure or field studies, or as the remit
solely of geography or biology teachers. The possible locations of outdoor
learning for schools include schools’ grounds, urban spaces, rural or city
farms, parks, gardens, woodlands, coasts, outdoor centres, wilderness areas and
more. In this context, outdoor education is as much about a teaching approach
for all teachers as about discrete specialist provision.
Link to the full report:Outdoor education in Scotland: A summary of recent research
Children in the outdoors: a
Muñoz, 2009, Sustainable Development Research Centre
This literature review takes an in-depth look at the link between
children’s use of outdoor spaces and health outcomes and lists a wealth of
findings that show there are many positive influences on health and well being.
Link to the full report: Children in the outdoors: A literature review
Wellbeing and the natural
environment: a brief overview of the evidence