Context for the Institute's Research Priorities & Resources

Context for the Institute’s Research Priorities

There is a growing body of evidence for a rich and diverse range of outcomes attributable to outdoor learning. There is also a healthy growth in the volume of academic papers exploring the evolving nature of outdoor learning. 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 a 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. We are keen to encourage a healthy dialogue between practitioners and academics and are committed to supporting research initiatives that :

  • result in a better understanding of the breadth and depth of outdoor learning practice
  • encourage the development and use of good practice
  • raise the value placed on outdoor learning


Effectiveness of Outdoor Learning Review

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

What is Outdoor Learning?


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. "What is Outdoor Learning?" research was published in 2005.

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.


Resources for Practitioners & Academics

The Institute works with a range of partner organisations to develop research in outdoor learning across the UK. If you are interested in participating in this work please contact us



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