Training / Education Guide

Gain the skills, knowledge and qualifications to work in the outdoors.

Leading outdoor learning experiences is all about how you use the activity to help others be safe and gain skills and learn more about themselves, each other and connect to the environment.

Most people who work in the outdoors have a combination of recognised awards, experience and employer delivered training. There are a wide variety of options – enabling you to find the best fit for your situation.

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Where to start?

To work in outdoor learning you will need to start with a love for the outdoors come rain or shine, a sense of reliability and organisation, and enthusiasm for working with people. Read through our Working in Outdoor Learning guide or talk with an IOL Organisational Member or IOL Accredited Member in your area to find out more.

You will need activity skills to inspire and keep participants safe, and teaching skills to coach and develop people through the activities you lead. Whatever your role, employers will need you to be able to fulfil your “duty of care” and be up-to-date with first aid, safeguarding, data protection and “competent” before you lead an activity or programme. Being able to drive a minibus may also be required.

There are four main training / education options:




Ready for the next step in your career?

Look at The Outdoor Professional guide and work through the IOL 7 Steps to CPD with an APIOL or LPIOL Coach to help you to work out where you are now, where you want to go next, and how you can get there.

The following organisations manage recognised and widely accepted training courses and awards relevant to working in outdoor learning.


Specialist Outdoor Sport or Activity Instructor

Follow the links below and get in touch with the National Governing Body (NGB) for the sport(s) you are interested in. They all offer training pathways to become a high-level instructor, leader, or Olympic/world-class coach.

Multi Activity Instructor at an Outdoor Centre

You will need a range of activity specialisms gained from external training and workplace courses. Employers typically look for relevant awards such as: Paddlesport Instructor, Walking Leader (LL, HML, ML), Rock Climbing Instructor, Dinghy Instructor, Cycling Coach, Bushcraft Competency Certificate, Orienteering Coach, etc.

Environmental Educator or Field Studies Tutor

You will need knowledge of geography, geology, environmental science, or the local flora and fauna. Many people will have a relevant degree but often experience of the local area and the skills to teach fieldwork is required.

Woodland or Forest School Leader

If you are new to this area Bushcraft Competency Certificate (BCC) + Level 3 Award in Education and Training, or a Level 3 Forest School Leader Award will be most appropriate.

If you are already a competent Instructor or Teacher then you may only need to cover those elements covered by the awards above that you are missing.


Outdoor or Adventure Therapist

Outdoor Therapy is a broad and inclusive heading for an integrated approach of outdoor activities and experiences in the natural environment, with counselling and psychotherapy/psychological theory and practice. To work in this area as an independent professional may require being an Outdoor Learning Professional - Accredited Member of IOL or above, AND professional training in counselling (2 Years), psychotherapy or psychology (5 years), AND and awareness of how to integrate the two professional fields.

Therapeutic outdoor learning describes programmes in which participants gain therapeutic benefit from participating in outdoor learning experiences. In these circumstances the activities are facilitated in a way that supports people in their health and wellbeing. To work in this area as an independent professional may require being an Outdoor Learning Professional - Accredited Member of IOL or above, AND awareness training at an appropriate level covering the presenting issues of the clients they work with AND awareness of how to integrate the two fields.

Overseas Expedition Leader for Schools

Employers look for skills and experience in group leadership, management, organinisation and decision-making. They usually require a Mountain Leader Award and First Aid relevant to operating in more remote environments.

Previous overseas experience and the ability to help others deal with being far from home and in a new environment and a new culture is also important – these aspects are often covered in employer specific training as well.

Freelance Outdoor Activity Instructor

The outdoor sector has a strong tradition of using skilled freelance staff to support a range of programmes. To work freelance (either as an employee or a contractor) you will need to offer relevant experience and technical knowledge and skills in subjects/activities.

You will also need to be covered by insurance and up to date with your DBS, D1, First Aid, Safeguarding and Data Protection awareness.

Outdoor Centre Manager

Many Outdoor Centre Managers have a background in instructing and may continue to teach as part of their job. A relevant degree, management and teaching qualifications can be an advantage as competition for posts can be fierce. You will need to have relevant experience and the necessary qualities to handle the responsibility – perhaps gained as a senior instructor, head of department or deputy manager.

For some, this will be a second career after school teaching, the armed forces, youth work or coaching.


Governing and Awarding Bodies for Outdoor Sports and Activities

The following organisations manage recognised and widely accepted training courses and awards relevant to working in outdoor learning.




Archery GB Instructor Award

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British Canoeing Awarding Body Paddlesport Instructor

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Mountain Bike Leadership

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British Orienteering Coach

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Lowland, Hill & Moorland or Mountain Leader, Climbing Instructor, Mountaineering Instructor or Guide


RYA Instructor Courses


Environmental Education and Field Studies


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The IOL Bushcraft Competency Certificate (BCC)


Forest School Practitioner


Other Recognised Bodies



High and Low Ropes Course Instructor & Rescuer


RLSS UK Qualifications and Awards


Accompanying Skills for Outdoor Learning Professionals



Look at EMCC, ICF, AfC or ILM Awards in Coaching.


Look at BACP and UKCP for details of their required levels of training, supervision and experience.


Do I need to do a training course to be competent?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define competence as “The combination of training, skills, experience and knowledge that a person has and their ability to apply them to perform a task safely”. Read More...

Your level of competence only needs to be proportionate to your job and place of work.

Employers need to be assured you are competent, but you may not necessarily need to complete a specific training course if you already have relevant experience. The Recognised ways to demonstrate competence are:

  1. Externally awarded qualifications with an appropriate syllabus; or
  2. In–house training leading to a statement of competence; or
  3. Assessment of your experience leading to a statement of competence.

Talk with your employer (or prospective employer) about how your training, skills, experience and knowledge fits their preferred ways to recognise competence in their staff team.

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