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The purpose of your outdoor learning practice

Published on 01 September 2017

The purpose of your outdoor learning practice

What have you done since the challenge at the 2016 IOL National Conference when  Valerie Hannon asked ‘what is the purpose of outdoor learning?’ and challenged us with the evidence of need for a changed approach to learning in a rapidly changing global community.

So what is the purpose of your outdoor learning practice?  For those working with schools it can be very easy with the regular work of the annual school cycle, to allow sole focus on the immediate learning programme content.  For those working to develop the effectiveness of businesses or provide impactful leisure experiences, the pressure of generating the right level of income can also lead to a short term focus.  Finding the space and asking such high level questions with potentially hard and far reaching answers, requires a change in mindset.  How do you achieve that?

Behaviour change is not a question of logic

As I try to take a step back and address the question of purpose to my own practice, I’m reminded that even with strong evidence of a need for change as a human race we can be reluctant to change our behaviour.  This feature of our race, explored by any number of academics, is illustrated by our approach to our impact on the global climate or our approach to our own health and wellbeing.  I am pretty clear that the combination of good data and logical thinking is not sufficient to change beliefs and behaviours for the better.  In a time when I think we are struggling to provide the next generation with a better life experience than our own, increased volumes of data and careful, slick presentations are not an effective solution. So what’s this got to do with outdoor learning?

A purpose for outdoor learning

As a father of two in their late teens early twenties I am troubled by what they and their off-spring might inherit.... and I’m not referring to any limited material resources I may leave them! Taking this concern and applying my belief that behaviour cannot be changed by evidence alone, I find myself with a relatively clear purpose for outdoor learning.  It is a vehicle for changing the beliefs and behaviours of the current generation going through formal education. It can enable them to experience and understand their relationship with the natural environment, developing a sustainable approach that enables the following generation to inherit a better world.  I realise I am not alone in coming to this conclusion but I am increasingly convinced that such a long term aim is too easily lost in dealing with immediate political, social and economic issues.

Encouraging the debate and commitment to deliverable activity

At this point it is difficult not to sink into a mire of political beliefs and government led initiatives. I don’t propose to fall into that trap, though can reassure you that my influencing activity on behalf of the Institute is heavily steered by the purpose I describe above.  You may feel there is a different purpose for outdoor learning and if so I’d really value getting to understand what your focus is.  I limit myself here to commenting on some activity that encourages me and in asking you to share what you believe the purpose of your outdoor learning practice is.

So here are just a few examples of the purpose of outdoor learning being delivered in my experience, designed to encourage you to reflect on the purpose of your own practice and consider how you are delivering it.  I appreciate these are not necessarily UK wide and I’ve deliberately avoided the mass of school led activity.

Developing young people through the NCS Trust. There are few government funded youth development initiatives that draw on outdoor learning and this is probably the most significant. The Trust looks set to be around for a while, unlike some previous initiatives, it appears to have reasonable cross-party support though is not yet UK wide.  The Institute is helping the Trust develop the standards and impact of the outdoor learning element of its programme and facilitate feedback from many of the outdoor learning providers.

Influencing policy, research & practice through research hubs. The recent establishment of outdoor learning research hubs is bringing together academics and practitioners interested in research.  The hubs are feeding findings into national government and developing co-ordination of research across the UK through an IOL funded research post.  See IOL Web : Research Hubs. Where do you draw on for sources of good practice?  How do you support development of policies at a local or national level?

Reaching beyond schools through local communities.  There are a wealth of third sector and commercial organisations, as well as individual volunteers, committed to engaging people with their local environment and introducing them to new and challenging environments.  Working outside of school structures can result in outdoor learning combating wider social and economic needs such as employability, mental health and anti-social behaviour.  What communities do you work with?  Your local IOL regional network may be the introduction point to new communities IOL Communities

If you have a clear purpose for your outdoor learning practice that you wish to inspire others with, why not write an article for Horizons and share it with outdoor learning community? See IOL web pages for Horizons guidance notes.

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