Outdoor Education has become somewhat of a byword when discussing interactions with students, the great outdoors and learning outdoor skills. You might have heard it thrown around yourself when talking to your fellow teachers or parents. You may have even found yourself asking the question, what does it actually mean and why is it considered so important for student education?

To put it simply, the term Outdoor Education can be defined by experiential learning in, for, or about the outdoors. Experiential learning itself is classified as ‘learning by experience‘ or ‘learning through doing‘, and Outdoor Education embraces this via organized activities that take place in outdoor environments. This does not mean however that Outdoor Education is focused solely on having fun outdoors. In fact, Outdoor Education programs focus on three major precepts; to positively transform the individuals Think, Feel, and Behave. And there is no better time to embrace these changes then during a student’s school years.

What Can Programs Involve?

Outdoor Education programs can vary both in duration, location and desired objectives. Most commonly programs will incorporate activities that allow students to experience adventurous challenges, new activities and learn new skills that may have a) never encountered before, b) provide base lessons in cooperation and wellbeing that have real-life impacts, and c) develop an understanding of self and sense of their place in their community

Programs can be both residential and/or journey-based and can incorporate both individual tasks and team building exercises. Outdoor activities can include bushwalking, camping, rock climbing, problem solving tasks, kayaking, ropes courses, group challenges, mountain biking and more, and can be structured for both individual challenge, team skills, natural environment and/or community education.

Key Focuses

One of the main precepts within Outdoor Education is the need to both cover and embrace the three domains; Self, Others and the Natural World. Exactly how Outdoor Educators choose to approach these issues can naturally vary, especially in consideration of outside impacts such as culture, philosophy and local conditions. That being said common key focuses of programs tend to be:

  • Enhancing personal and social development with focuses on fostering positive growth mindsets.
  • Overcoming adversity, whether within one’s self or as group which can be applied towards real world applications.
  • Develop new methods of thinking, problem solving and leadership capabilities through task-orientated journeys.
  • Expanding self-limitations, creating and achieving personal goals and increasing self-esteem.
  • Learning ways to redirect negative and/or anti-social traits and form new positive thinking and community involvement.
  • Increase understanding and connection with both nature and the local community, and through that help develop a sense of self and belonging within that community.
  • Promotion of personal health, wellbeing and mindfulness through immersion in natural environments.

Outdoor Education and the Student Experience

Empirical studies have long indicated a positive overall effect of Outdoor Education programs, from small to moderate short-term impacts on generic life skills to strong long-lasting outcomes with a heavy focus on motivating student wellbeing, behaviour and communication. These ongoing effects are emphasised in Outdoor Education programs that focus on both a) current student curriculum requirements and learning and b) alter in level of challenge and experience as students develop over the years.

Schools that provide continual outdoor education programs over the course of the student experience note increases in development of essential life tools such as personal responsibility, problem solving, independence as a leader and the ability to work with others. Skills learnt during Outdoor Education programs can both directly and indirectly effect student outlook, wellbeing and attitude in the classroom. Changes in mindset and confidence, as well as deeper understanding on behaviour and communication, have all shown to positively influence future learning within the classroom itself.

outdoor education

Wilderness Escape Outdoor Education Programs

Looking for an Outdoor Educator? Wilderness Escape has been running Outdoor Education programs for 30 years and is one of SA’s largest and most respected outdoor companies. We run both school camps and day programs for schools with a focus on experiences that allow students to develop increased positive emotion through their achievements. The scope and sequence of experiential learning techniques we use during our programs allows students to develop self-sufficient skill level that ultimately gives them the ability to make knowledgeable choices about the outdoor experiences and their real-life counterpoints they take on.

Wilderness Escape operates throughout South Australia and Victoria and provides a wide range of outdoor activities led by highly qualified instructors.

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Sources of Information

Berman, D.S. and Davis-Berman, J (2005) Positive Psychology and Outdoor Education, Journal of Experiential Education 28(1): 17-24

Brookes, A (2002) Lost in the Australian bush: Outdoor Education as curriculum, Journal of Curriculum Studies 34(4): 405-425

Cason, D. and Gillis, H.L (1994) A meta-analysis of outdoor adventure programming with adolescents, Journal of Experiential Education 17(1): 40-47

Ford, P (1986) Outdoor Education: Definition and Philosophy, ERIC Clearing house on Rural Education and Small Schools, Washington DC

Gilbertson, K., Bates, T., McLaughlin, T. and Ewert, A (2006) Outdoor Education: Methods and Strategies, Human Kinetics, Lower Mitchem, South Australia

Hattie, J.A., Marsh, H.W., Neill, J.T. and Richards, E (1997) Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that have a lasting effect, Review of Education Research 67:43-87

Lieberman,. G.A. and Hoody, L.L (1998) Closing the achievement gap. Using the environment as an integrating context for learning, State Education and Environment Roundtable, San Diego, California

Maynard, T., Waters, J. and Clement (2013) Child-initiated learning, the outdoor environment and the ‘underachieving’ child, Early Years 33(3) 212-225

Neill, J.T. and Richards, G.E (1998) Does Outdoor Education really work? A summary of recent meta-analyses, Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education 3:2-9

Outdoor Education Australia (2021) Understanding Outdoor Education – https://outdooreducationaustralia.org.au/education/

Paisley, K., Furman, N., Sibthorp, J. and Gookin, J (2008) Student Learning in Outdoor Education: A Case Study from the National Outdoor Leadership School, Journal of Experiential Education 30(3): 201-222

Priest, S (1986) Redefining Outdoor Education: A Matter of Many Relationships, The Journal of Environmental Education, 17(3): 13-15

Wattchow, B. and Brown, M (2011) A Pedagogy of Place. Outdoor Education for a Changing World, Monash University Publishing, Victoria