What is Outdoor Learning?

Outdoor Learning is a broad term that includes: outdoor play in the early years, school grounds projects, environmental education, recreational and adventure activities, personal and social development programmes, expeditions, team building, leadership training, management development, education for sustainability, adventure therapy … and more. Outdoor Learning does not have a clearly defined boundary but it does have a common core…

All forms of Outdoor Learning value direct experience
Outdoor Learning can provide a dramatic contrast to the indoor classroom. Direct experience outdoors is more motivating and has more impact and credibility. Through skilled teaching, interpretation or facilitation, outdoor experiences readily become a stimulating source of fascination, personal growth and breakthroughs in learning.

Outdoor Learning is active learning in the outdoors
In Outdoor Learning participants learn through what they do, through what they encounter and through what they discover. Participants learn about the outdoors, themselves and each other, while also learning outdoor skills. Active learning readily develops the learning skills of enquiry, experiment, feedback, reflection,  review and cooperative learning.

Outdoor Learning is real learning
Not only does Outdoor Learning happen in the natural environments where participants can see, hear, touch and smell the real thing, it also happens in an arena where actions have real results and consequences. Outdoor Learning can help to bring many school subjects alive while also providing experiential opportunities for fulfilling the National Curriculum aim “to enable pupils to respond positively to opportunities, challenges and responsibilities, to manage risk and to cope with change and adversity.” Source: DfES & QCA, The National Curriculum, ‘Aims for the School Curriculum’ 1999.

Outdoor Learning broadens horizons and stimulates new interests
There is no limit to the experiences and curiosities that outdoor environments and activities can arouse. Participants frequently discover potential, abilities and interests that surprise themselves and others. Safety codes provide clear boundaries and learning goals give clear direction, but Outdoor Learning draws in energy and inspiration from all around. ‘Broadening horizons’ is a common outcome.

Outdoor Learning is becoming more integrated
Many forms of Outdoor Learning are crossing traditional boundaries: recreation providers are paying more attention to personal and social development; development training providers are showing more interest in the environment and sustainability; field studies is becoming more active and developmental. Participants’ experiences are enriched as providers develop a broader vision and more integrated practice.

Continuing change in Outdoor Learning
Since its formation in 2001 by the convergence of six outdoor organisations, the Institute (IOL) has influenced the changes outlined above. IOL supports networking and the sharing of good practices throughout all forms of Outdoor Learning. The practices and values include promoting respect for diversity, equality of opportunity and the sustainable use of the environment. New funding continues to stimulate new practice and developments within the Outdoor Learning sector.