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Where to find Outdoor Learning Research?

Reviews of Research in Outdoor Learning 

  • Outdoor Learning Discussion Lists
  • Refereed Outdoor Learning Journals
  • Outdoor Learning Research Conferences
  • Other Sources of Research about Outdoor Learning

  • Reviews of Research in Outdoor Learning

Literature Reviews from the OPENspace Research Centre (2003) Health, Well-Being and Open Space (UK)

Key points from this review of research include:
- Exposure to the natural environment can have a negative effect on human health.
- 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 areas.
- 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 active.
- 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. Link to full review: Health, Well-Being and Open Space

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 Adventure Space

  • A Review of Research on Outdoor Learning 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.
    Key findings

    The impact of fieldwork and visits

    - 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 the classroom.
    - 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 outdoor adventure activities

    - 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 impact of school grounds/community projects

    - 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.

    The full summary also includes:

    Factors influencing outdoor learning and its provision
    Key messages for practice
    Key messages for policy
    Key messages for research
  • Why Adventure? The Role and Value of Outdoor Adventure in young people's personal and social development (UK) A Review of Research by Jon Barrett and Roger Greenaway commissioned by the Foundation for Outdoor Adventure, 1995.

    Main Findings

    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.

    Personal Development
    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 spiritual development.

    Social Development
    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 not automatically 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.
    - 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 facilitated.
    - 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.

    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.

  • 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.

    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 Work?" 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.

Outdoor Learning Discussion Lists

Refereed Outdoor Learning Journals

Outdoor Learning Research Conferences

Other sources of research about Outdoor Learning

What is Outdoor Learning:

INDEX: What is Outdoor Learning?

Introduction page to this research

How Safe is Outdoor Learning?

How Much Outdoor Learning is going on?

Why Outdoor Learning Matters: the case for Outdoor Learning

Who supports Outdoor Learning and Why?

Campaigns for Outdoor Learning

What are the Benefits of Outdoor Learning?

Examples of Benefits gained from OL

What does the research say about Outdoor Learning?

Where to find Outdoor Learning Research?

Outdoor Learning Research in other Journals


The “What is Outdoor Learning?” research was undertaken by Dr. Roger Greenaway, author of publications such as 'Playback'. The idea for the research project came from the English Outdoor Council, and has been funded by IOL. It is potentially a key resource for the field.

Links to other websites were correct at the time of publication.