Outdoor Education R&E Center


Purposes, Goals & Aims of Outdoor Education

James Neill
Last updated:
26 Oct 2006

A useful conceptualization of the purposes of adventure programs was developed by Priest and Gass (1997).  They proposed four types of programs:

  • Recreational programs aim to change the way people feel.  The purpose is leisure, fun and enjoyment, e.g., surfing for pleasure.

  • Educational programs aim to change the way people feel and think.  The purpose is to learn skills and/or information, e.g., learning how to surf classes or geography field trips.

  • Developmental programs aim to to change way people feel, think and behave.  The purpose is  is to undergo personal growth, e.g., a surfing program in which the goal was to push personal limits, test endurance, develop personal goal setting, self-discipline, and build individual's self-esteem, etc.)

  • Therapeutic / Redirectional programs aim to change the way people feel, think, behave, and resist.  The purpose is correct an individual or group problem, e.g., a low security prison may conduct surfing classes and work on a beach habitat restoration program as part of a pre-release detention program for inmates)

In addition to Priest and Gass' four purposes, these other purposes of outdoor education programs are also common:

  • Physical goals include physical fitness, weight loss, balanced dietary intake, physical movement and physical and health well-being.  Physical goals may be preventative, educational, developmental, and/or rehabilitative (therapeutic).

  • Spiritual programs aim to help development of spiritual knowledge and experience (e.g., many Church and Religious groups conduct camps for young people with a combination of spiritual instruction and other goals, such as fun (recreation).

  • Relationship / Family / Group / Community oriented programs aim to change the way a particular dyad, small group or community are functioning (as opposed to individual).  The unit of interest/analysis in this case is not the individual.  Team productivity and school climate are examples.

  • Environmental goals include having a positive impact on a specific ecosystem (e.g., native vegetation regeneration), environmental education knowledge (e.g., local area knowledge through to awareness about global climate change), and environmental attitude.


Priest, S., & Gass, M. (1997). Effective leadership in adventure programming. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.