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About Outdoor Learning

About Outdoor Learning

About Outdoor Learning


Outdoor Learning is a broad term that includes discovery, experimentation, learning about and connecting to the natural world, and engaging in environmental and adventure activities.

For example; multi-day expeditions, woodland and coastal learning, youth or community activity courses, school residential trips, outdoor and adventure sports coaching, sail training experiences.

Outdoor learning involves the transformation of knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours through direct engagement with the outdoor environment for the personal and social benefit of individuals, families, society and the planet.


Outdoor Learning Benefits and Impact


Purposeful experiences in the outdoors can be a catalyst for powerful and memorable learning.

Outdoor Learning is more than adventure sports or simply taking what could happen indoors outside. It can be found in a wide range of environments and situations, including personal adventures, outdoor recreation, informal education; non-formal settings, such as in clubs, Scouts and Guides; and formal settings such as those found in schools, colleges and universities.



Outdoor Learning experiences could be:

  • A group expedition along the Pennine Way with professional monitoring and support
  • Surveying and recording the species across a set of sand dunes a Studland Beach
  • Discovering the wildlife and plants that live along the River Dart
  • Crewing a yacht and making passage across the Irish Sea
  • Staying at an outdoor residential centre and completing a range of challenging activities
  • Climbing on an urban wall then progressing to multi-pitch climbing in Scotland
  • Working as a team to improvise a raft and paddle it on Lake Windermere
  • Improvising and sleeping in a woodland shelter built in the school grounds
  • Developing confidence and resilience through a variety of activities at a summer holiday club
  • Being part of a “walking for health” group in your local area


Benefits of Outdoor Learning.

Research shows that people benefit from outdoor learning in all areas of life. Outdoor Learning provides a highly effective way of addressing some of society’s key challenges:

  • At a global level: fostering a connection that leads to respect and care for the natural world, an appreciation of biodiversity and sustainability, and pro-environmental behaviours.
  • At the societal level: developing a sense of place leading to greater engagement with the community and an appreciation of the opportunities available to live, learn and work in the local area.
  • At the interpersonal level: providing a safe and supportive setting to enhance social skills, appreciate and value difference. Encouraging loving and meaningful relationships across generations that foster tolerance, respect and kindness.
  • At the intrapersonal level: engagement with nature and the environment for health, wellbeing and nature connection, leading to lifelong participation and outdoor competence. Developing character, resilience, positive risk taking.



Outdoor Learning Providers


Options for working in Outdoor Learning



Outdoor Learning Professionals

Professionals in outdoor learning create, manage and run activity and outdoor learning programmes that deliver progressive learning and change in the outdoors. They apply outdoor leadership judgement in order to facilitate safe and effective individual and group learning using a wide variety of teaching, development, reflection, feedback and coaching strategies.

Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL) Professional Members are trained, experienced and uphold the values and behaviours that help others enjoy their environment, gain skills and make a positive difference for our world.

They sign up to a professional code of practice and an ongoing commitment to continuing professional development.

The Outdoor Professional



Describing a childhood progression in outdoor learning

Describing a childhood progression in outdoor learning

The Institute is seeking to map the fantastic range of outdoor learning interventions across the UK. Interventions that are designed to enable children and young people to form sustainable self-led relationships with the natural environment, engage more effectively with education to benefit from better health and well-being. We are encouraging a debate and seeking support providers of outdoor learning and influence UK government through the ‘Outdoor Citizens’ campaign.

  • Outdoor learning can help build social, cultural and nature connection. Modelling, mentoring and local champions are all helpful with this, especially where families lack confidence in how to enable outdoor play and learning.
  • Identity, self-awareness and character may all be supported by defining ‘self’ in the context of the natural environment and in relation to others. However, creating opportunities for this to happen cannot be prescriptive due to varying pace of personal development and social and physical and cultural contexts.
  • Supporting a young person to achieve a sustainable, healthy (physical & mental) and self-led relationship with nature also needs to pay attention to experiential learning and reflective capability, not just variety of activity and location.




Childhood progression in outdoor learning

Outdoor Learning Research

There is a growing body of research about outdoor learning and its value in various arenas. For a detailed look at "What is Outdoor Learning" look at Roger Greenaway under 'What is Outdoor Learning' on our Research page. Part of the IOL remit is to gather, disseminate and evaluate gaps in the research base.


Are you interested in commissioning outdoor learning

Whether you are looking to commission outdoor learning for a school residential, personal / social development programme, team development, management or leadership programme, education session, professional development or for any other reason, there are some simple things you need to look out for:

For working with young people, there are a number of different accreditations, qualifications, good practice guidelines and benchmarks that you can look for. Some are imperative, others voluntary. These will also vary depending on where in the UK you are. Simple things to look for are the AALA (Adventure Activities Licencing Authority) badge and relevant sporting awards for the activities you are doing.

If an organisation or individual is a member of the Institute, you can rest assured they have signed up to our code of conduct. For all our current organisational members, and to search for some in your area see here. We have also set standards for professionalism in our sector through our accreditation structure for individual outdoor learning practitioners. You can find a map of currently accredited individuals here.

Are you interested in getting into the outdoor learning profession?

Outdoor learning is an incredibly rewarding career and people come to it in so many different ways, from different places and at different times of their lives. We have a few stories from some of our members.

Some people start out as outdoor instructors, on college and university courses, as teachers, as management & leadership specialists, in the armed forces, as youth workers and activity coaches. There is no one clear pathway in outdoor learning, but here are some journeys that we have mapped. You are likely to spend time outdoors with groups of people and seeing some really awesome stuff happen with those people. You will need to be responsible, personally and environmentally aware and emotionally intelligent.

Are you looking for specialist support and advice?

We have people local to you and nationally that can offer specialist support or advice in the area in which you are looking.

We have a variety of specialist groups within our membership, who’s remit it is to influence thinking in these areas. You can approach them with questions or join to talk about professional practice, discuss issues and emerging opportunities in their particular area. You could join one of these. Currently we have the following professional practice groups:

We have the following professional discussion groups;

Still not sure who to talk to? Call us and if we can’t help directly, we will point you in the right direction.

Are you spreading the word about outdoor learning?

We would love to hear what you are doing, and can share through our social media, newsletters and blogs what is going on.

If you have professional practice to share, why not write an article for Horizons?

If you are conducting research and want to add it to our research compilation, please get in touch.


About Outdoor Learning



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+44 (0)1228 564580



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