The launch of the reported findings of the largest recent study of outdoor learning in schools, 'Natural Connections', is a helpful contribution to our understanding of the impact of outdoor learning in schools and the key factors that influence positive outcomes. Less helpful from my perspective is the introduction of yet another acronym to the teacher's lexicon! I fear that we may add a good deal of confusion with the introduction of the term 'Learning in the Natural Environment' or LINE, as a way of sub-dividing outdoor learning.
Acronyms to one side, the Natural Connections report is worth a read (full report). If you prefer to listen to others describe some key insights Natural England have produced a useful 10 minute film
This has been a well funded study (Natural England), well executed by the team at Plymouth University, which has revealed the very real challenges facing the use of outdoor learning in schools. The challenges to outdoor learning in schools will come as little surprise to practitioners working with or based in schools. Lack of teacher confidence, uncertain links to the curriculum, time and lack of funding are all confirmed as key issues; the need for voluntary support appears to be a result of the approach taken to the project but reveals a helpful insight into how overstretched teachers and schools may have greater impact. Though good planning, increasing understanding of options and introduction of low cost approaches helped the use of outdoor learning throughout the project, the fundamental challenge of time did not. : The report identifies the very positive impact that the use of outdoor learning has on the teacher as well as the pupils, highlighting positive impact on teaching practice, health & well being, professional development and job satisfaction. The report also helpfully considers a good deal of other evidence for impacts beyond immediate learning outcomes.
So what? There is clearly still a need to co-ordinate our research into and development of good practice, as identified in the recent Blagrave funded research. As well as feeding into Natural England's efforts to pull together national influences on policy, I suggest we need to join up researchers and practitioners on a more local basis. The creation of local hubs is consistent with the findings of 'Natural Connections' so look out for opportunities to join such a hub in the coming months.