Outdoor Education R&E Center

Theories of Outdoor Education

James Neill
Last updated:
27 Jan 2008


What's New?

  • Kurt Hahn...Andrew BrookesA critique of neo-Hahnian outdoor education theory. Part one: challenges to the concept of ‘character building’
    (Andrew Brookes, 2003, Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 3(1),49-62; [pdf; .2MB])

    'Neo-Hahnian' (NH) beliefs assume that adventure experiences 'build character', 'develop persons', 'actualise selves', or have therapeutic effects associated with changes in personal traits. In social psychological terms NH thought is 'dispositional' in that it favors explanations of behaviour in terms of consistent personal traits. This paper critically reviews NHism in a psychosocial-historical context, and counters that outdoor adventure education programs do not build character, but may provide situations that elicit particular behaviours. Brookes concludes that belief in the possibility of 'character building' is a source of bias, not a foundation of outdoor education.

  • A psycho-evolutionary theory of outdoor education
    (James Neill, Tonia Gray, Graham Ellis-Smith, Jason Bocarro, Ricardo Sierra, & Kaushal, 2nd International Outdoor Education Conference, Bendigo, Australia, July 6-9, 2004)

    Introduces the tenets of psycho-evolutionary theory (PET), the underlying rationale, and the implications for research and practice.  PET views outdoor education programs as a phenomenon of post-industrial society -- a semi-ritualistic, compensatory effort to reconnect with nature.  However, for the full power of outdoor education to be realised, it needs to focus on helping people understand their intra-indigenous consciousness, i.e., their deep knowing which can be unlocked through experiential rediscovery of our indigenous psyche.

  • Outdoor education theories & their role in program design & delivery
    (Ozgur Akbas, May, 2004, European Association for Experiential Education Conference, Czech Republic)


  1. Wilderness & nature
  2. Learning & education
  3. Psycho-experiential
  4. Psycho-social
  5. Facilitation
  6. Multi-dimensional

1. Wilderness, Environment & Nature

Theories which focus on the influence of the natural environment on human thinking and behavior.

2. Learning & Education

Theories which focus on experience, learning and change.

3. Psycho-Experiential Theory

Theories which focus on the psychological and experiential nature of challenging group experiences in nature.

4. Psycho-Social Theory

Theories which focus on social psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

5. Facilitation

Theories which focus on the role played by the facilitator(s).

6. Multi-dimensional Theories

Theories which focus on synthesizing multiple elements into a greater whole, often based on elements-of-practice models.