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Introduction to Outdoor Education

What is Outdoor Education?
Definition (Definitions)

James Neill
Last updated:
28 Sep 2004


What is Outdoor Education?

Brookes (1991) proposed that the meaning of outdoor education is relative to time and place.  To help convey the diversity of what is meant by "outdoor education", many definitions are provided below.  Be warned -- such definitions can and should evolve and transform.

Psychosocial definitions

Environmental definitions

Outdoor education is...
the use of experiences in the outdoors for the education and development of the ‘whole person’
- The Outdoor Institute

Outdoor education is...
education in, for, and about the outdoors.
- Donaldson & Donaldson, 1958, Outdoor Education: A definition. JOPER, 29(17), 63)

Outdoor education...
appeals to the use of the senses - audio, visual, taste, touch, and smell - for observation and perception.
- C. A. Lewis, 1975, The Administration of Outdoor Education Programs.  Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt

Outdoor education is...
an experiential method of learning by doing, which takes place primarily through exposure to the out-of-doors. In outdoor education, the emphasis for the subject of learning is placed on RELATIONSHIPS: relationships concerning human and natural resources.
- source unknown, possibly Priest

Outdoor education is...
a means of curriculum enrichment, whereby the process of learning takes place out of doors. Outdoor education broadly includes environmental education, conservation education, adventure education, school camping, wilderness therapy, and some aspects of outdoor recreation.
- Edward Lappin, 2000

Outdoor education is...
an experiential method of learning with the use of all senses.  It takes place primarily, but not exclusively, through exposure to the natural environment.
- Priest, 1990

Outdoor education is...
interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary...an approach to achieving the goals and objectives of the curriculum.
- D. R. Hammerman, W. M. Hammerman, & E. L. Hammerman, 1985, Teaching in the Outdoors, Danville, IL: Interstate

Outdoor education is...
going out into the natural environment, learning about and respecting the environment.
- Ketchie

Outdoor education is...
a learning climate for the things which can be learned best outside the classroom.
- Julian Smith, 1955, Outdoor Education and Youth, Washington, DC: AAHPER

Outdoor education is...
often synonymous with environmental education and outdoor recreation.
- Priest, 1988

Outdoor education is...
one of a range of mediums in which to offer informal educational opportunities addressing the personal and social development of both communities and individuals
- Outdoor Edinburgh

Outdoor education is...
a matter of many relationships.  These relationships concern not only the natural resources, but also people and society.
- Simon Priest, 1986, Redefining Outdoor Education, Journal of Environmental Education, 17(3), 13

I use the term ‘outdoor education’ fairly loosely to mean all purposely designed educational activities which have a common ‘growth through challenge’ philosophy and which utilize natural environments or other novel environments, such as living on board a tall ship.
- Neill, 2001

Outdoor education is...
an experiential method of learning with the use of all senses.  It takes place primarily, but not exclusively, through exposure to the natural environment.  In outdoor education, the emphasis for the subject of learning is placed on relationships concerning people and natural resources.
- Lund, 2002

Outdoor education is...
the use of the outdoors for educational purposes.  OE often involves small groups actively engaged in adventurous activities for personal growth under the guidance of an instructor or leader
- Neill, 2003

Outdoor education is...
an international, experiential education phenomenon which engages people in adventurous activities for enhancement of the well-being of individuals, communities, and the environment
- Neill, 2002

Outdoor education is...
a term that means different things to different people, cultures, and organizations.  Common themes include an emphasis on direct experience of the outdoors for personal, social, educational, therapeutic and environmental goals.
- Neill, 2003

What is your definition
of outdoor education?

Outdoor education is...
when small groups of people participate in organized adventurous activities in natural settings and primarily use themselves as the resource for solving problems
(Neill, 2003)


Outdoor education...
addresses all three domains of learning, the triad of "knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
- Phyllis Ford, 1981, Principles and Practices of Outdoor / Environmental Education.  New York: Wiley


Outdoor education is...
a phenomenon of post-modern Western society; it does not occur (as we currently understand and define it) in Eastern society or in pre-modern Western society because it requires a distancing of civilization from nature in order for “nature” to have novel effects and an “indoorisation” of education in order for “outdoor” to be considered worthy of identification.
- Neill, 2004




Outdoor Education Keywords & Related Terms


The main keywords for outdoor education are:

  1. education / learning

  2. outdoor

  3. environment / nature / wilderness

  4. adventure

Definitions of some related terms:

Terms which are commonly used and which are similar to outdoor education are:

  1. adventure education

  2. adventure programming

  3. outdoor learning

  4. outdoor recreation

  5. wilderness experience

  6. adventure therapy

  7. camping

  8. therapeutic recreation

  9. environmental education

  10. outdoor recreation

  11. A table of 45 similar terms

Related articles with definitions

Articles with outdoor education & related definitions

Adkins, C., & Simmons, B. (2002). Outdoor, experiential, & environmental education: Converging or diverging approaches?   ERIC Digest, EDO-RC-02-1. [PDF]  http://mirror.eschina.bnu.edu.cn/Mirror1/accesseric/www.ael.org/eric/digests/edorc02-1.pdf

Brookes, A. (1991). Thoughts on the conference theme. Proceedings of the 7th National Outdoor Education Conference, Monash University, Frankston, Australia.

McIntyre, N. Adventure and the outdoors (contains definitions & models). http://www.tmc.waikato.ac.nz/support/leisure/norm /restrict/CrsMatdo.pdf

The Outdoor Institute. Definitions of outdoor education, development training and recreation.  http://www.ukoi.demon.co.uk/Definitions.htm

Ford, P. (1986). Outdoor education: Definition and philosophy.  http://www.ericfacility.net/ericdigests/ed267941.html

Hillbert, H. & Grimm, G. An operational definition and description of college outdoor programs.  http://www.isu.edu/outdoor/great.htm

Ketchie (n. d.) Benefits to outdoor education. Indigezine. http://research2.csci.educ.ubc.ca/indigenation/ketchkie.htm

Itin, C. Definition of adventure-based practice and related terms.  http://www.geocities.com/dr_adventure/def.html

Lappin, E. (2000). Outdoor education for behavior disturbed students. ERIC Digest.  http://www.ericfacility.net/ericdigests/ed261811.html

Lund, M. (2002). Adventure education: Some semantics. http://www.artsci.gmcc.ab.ca/courses/peds205ml/adventureeducation.html

Outdoor Edinburgh (n. d.) Outdoor education policy statement. City of Edinburgh Council's Community Education Department. http://www.outdooredinburgh.org.uk/oepolicystatement.htm

Priest, S. Definition of terms. http://members.tscnet.com/pages/experien/

Priest, S. (1988).  The ladder of environmental learning.  Journal of Adventure Education, 5(2), 23-25.

Priest, S. (1990).  The semantics of adventure education.  In J. C. Miles & S. Priest. Adventure Education.

Articles with environmental education definitions

EEATP.  Environmental education: Can it be defined?  http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~eetap/pdf/info14.pdf

Thesaurus of environmental education terms. http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~eetap/pdf/eeterms.pdf

Sources of definitions for environmental educationhttp://www.gcrio.org/edu/pcsd/endnotes.html

Synonyms of Environmental Education. http://eelink.net/synonyms-a-e.html


Articles with other definitions related to outdoor education

Climbing terms dictionary.  http://home.tiscalinet.de/ockier/climbing_dict.htm

Experiential learning definitions & models. http://www.mwsc.edu/MasterPlan/documents/experiential learning definition bib.pdf

Greenaway, R. Definitions and explanations (for reviewing skills, etc.)http://reviewing.co.uk/_site.htm#def

Russell & Hendee.  Outdoor behavioral healthcare:  Definitions, common practice, expected outcomes, and a nationwide survey of programs. http://www.its.uidaho.edu/wrc/Pdf/OBHPublication.pdf

Service learning definitionshttp://www.exchangesjournal.org/research/1037_Service_3.html

Watters, R. A model theory of outdoor programming approaches. http://www.isu.edu/outdoor/model.htm

YMCA's Character development definitions.  http://www.ssymca.org/camps/Character_Development.asp#