Outdoor Learning Research


Evolving research and practice development in Outdoor Learning


There is a wealth of research papers available to those who wish to explore the impact of outdoor learning, its efficacy with certain populations in certain settings adopting particular practices.

Prior to a more comprehensive agenda and structuring of Outdoor Learning research the following papers are suggested as helpful in considering effective policy and practice in the sector.


Blagrave Report


In 2015 the Institute worked with the Blagrave Trust, Giving Evidence and University College London to review the effectiveness of outdoor learning in the UK, resulting in the Blagrave Report that made the following recommendations;

  1. Pull together the various data sources to give the current picture, and create a system to regularly capture data on the types and volumes of activity.
  2. Improve practitioners’ theories of change, enabling practitioners’ to both create and to use them - they are invaluable for understanding why an intervention works and hence whether it is likely to work in other contexts.
  3. Convene practitioners, researchers and others to prioritise research topics.
  4. Manage the resulting sector-wide research agenda, through relationships with funders, and possibly by creating partnerships between practitioners and researchers.
  5. Ensure that both interventions and research are described clearly, fully and publicly.

The Institute is supporting the sector’s work to develop better articulated and researched outcomes across outdoor learning.


 Natural Connections Demonstration Project, 2012-2016: Final Report


  1. Natural Connections Natural Connections Demonstration Project, 2012-2016: Final Report

    Findings from a project that was designed to:

    1. Stimulate the demand for outdoor learning from schools and teachers
    2. Support schools and teachers to incorporate outdoor learning in their planning and practices
    3. Stimulate the supply of high quality learning outdoor learning services for schools and teachers
  2. Natural England provided a set of evidence briefings relevant to the Outdoor Learning sector in 2016
    1. Links between natural environments and learning: evidence briefing (EIN017)
    2. Links between natural environments and mental health: evidence briefing (EIN018)
    3. Links between natural environments and physical activity: evidence briefing (EIN019)
    4. Links between natural environments and physiological health: evidence briefing (EIN020)
    5. Links between natural environments and obesity: evidence briefing (EIN021)


Learning Away Final Report


The Impact of residential experiences on Young People. Although this research was undertaken with schools using more than just outdoor learning as the primary medium on a residential the volume of outdoor learning drawing on residential justifies it listing.

The report from June 2015 is based a project designed to;

  1. test and evidence four key Learning Away propositions focused on the belief that high-quality residential learning: has a strong, positive impact on academic achievement and provides a wide range of student-level outcomes; can transform the learning experience of students; can help to transform schools; and does not need to be expensive
  2. generate new insights and understanding about how and why residential learning can and does achieve these outcomes


Wild Adventure Space for Young People




September 2006

Prepared for the Countryside Agency, English Nature and Rural Development Service
by Penny Travlou

OPENspace: the research centre for inclusive access to outdoor environments



The Existing Evidence Base about the Effectiveness of Outdoor Learning 2015.
The Blagrave Trust commissioned this review and report in early 2015 to support the development of a better evidence base for Outdoor Learning in the UK. The work had the explicit aim of assisting funders, policy makers, researchers, practitioners and other stakeholders in engaging with Outdoor Learning. UCL and Giving Evidence conducted the review, steered by a cross section of practitioners and researchers from the sector and chaired by IOL. The report was published in November 2015.
The report’s recommendations are steering the Institute in working with a range of organisations interested in outdoor learning research and practice. If you think you are able to contribute to this work or are interested in discussing the findings and recommendations in this paper further please contact us.

The Existing Evidence-Base about the Effectiveness of Outdoor Learning - Final Report October 2015

The Education Endowment Foundation’s teaching & learning toolkit rates different education interventions. Outdoor Adventure Learning is rated as moderate impact for moderate costs, based on moderate evidence EEF teaching & learning toolkit : outdoor adventure learning.

The toolkit draws on the following research :

  1. Bowen, D. J., & Neill, J. T. A meta-analysis of adventure therapy outcomes and moderators The Open Psychology Journal, 6(1), 28-53 (2013)
  2. Cason, D., & Gillis, H. L. A meta-analysis of outdoor adventure programming with adolescents Journal of Experiential Education, 17(1), 40-47 (1994)
  3. Gillis, L. H., & Speelman, E. Are challenge (ropes) courses an effective tool? A meta-analysis Journal of Experiential Education, 31(2), 111-135 (2008)
  4. Hans, T. A. A meta-analysis of the effects of adventure programming on locus of control Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 30(1), 33-60 (2000)
  5. Hattie, J., Marsh, H. W., Neill, J. T., & Richards, G. E. Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 43-87 (1997)
  6. Laidlaw, J. S. A meta-analysis of outdoor education programs (Order No. 9999509) Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304612041) (2000)
  7. McKenzie, M. D. How are adventure education program outcomes achieved?: A review of the literature Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 5(1), 19-27 (2000)
  8. Wilson, S. J., & Lipsey, M. W. Wilderness challenge programs for delinquent youth: A meta-analysis of outcome evaluations Evaluation and Program Planning, 23(1), 1-12 (2000)

This report from the National Foundation for Education Research and Bath University in 2005 outlines findings and makes recommendations that are still relevant
Engaging & Learning with the Outdoors 2005

An associated review of research on outdoor learning from 2004 is also still relevant
NFER Review of research on outdoor learning 2004

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.
Why Adventure : The Role and Value of Outdoor Adventure in young people’s personal and social development 1995


Other research & practice development help from IOL


Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning


The Institute’s Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning is a quarterly publication with peer reviewed academic papers published by Taylor & Francis.


Horizons Magazine


For a sharing of practitioners' reflections and insights, arising from their own direct experiences the Institute publishes Horizons, its membership magazine also on a quarterly basis.


High Quality Outdoor Learning


The guide to 'High Quality Outdoor Learning' is a valuable tool in training teachers and youth workers as well as promoting the use of outdoor learning. IOL can also supply hard copies. Buy copy here...