Outdoor Education R&E Center


Wilderness & Education

Environmental Education
Definition, Theory, Research, Links

James Neill
Last updated:
26 Oct 2006

Environmental Education Guide

Environmental education: Making connections...understanding ecosystem

What's New?

  • Environmental advocacy study trip faces political harassment in the USAEnvironmental advocacy study trip faces political harassment in the USA
    (9 April, 2005, Antioch New England Graduate School, NH, USA)

    A group of master's students from Antioch New England Graduate School’s Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program recently visited Louisiana as part of a field studies trip.  The class met with elected officials, petrochemical industry executives, union leaders, scientists, EPA officials, environmental activists, and members of polluted communities.  They also unexpectedly encountered off-duty police and sheriff’s department officers and corporate security officials who detained them because they took photos of industrial facilities from public roadways and sidewalks.  Following the group's visit, the group's community liaison officer, Willie Fontenot, from the Louisiana Attorney-General's Department, was asked to take early retirement or face a hearing and be fired.  Public action to support Fontenot is underway.

  • Psygeist1 in 10 bird species could vanish by 2100
    (Dan Vergano, 13 December, 2004, USA Today)

    Another symptom of humans' unsustainable lifestyle is that bird species are struggling to adapt to the pace of change.  New estimates indicate that about 10% of all bird species are likely to be extinct by 2100.  The most direct causes are habitat loss, hunting and climate change.  What can be done?  Expand and connect up natural habitats and replace hunting with ecotourism are some practical suggestions.

  • Living Planet Report 2004Consumption of resources outstripping planet's ability to cope
    (Jonathan Fowler, 2004, Associated Press)

    Humans seem to be fatally slow on the sustainability uptake.  Even though technology is available to enable the world's population to live within the capacity of one planet, our parasitic greed is proving more attractive.  The World Wildlife Foundation's annual Living Planet Report (2004) has revealed the grim news that human beings are now collectively outstripping the planet of its natural resources faster than it is being  replenished by a whopping 20%.  "Ecological footprint" calculations further reveal that an average North American's consumption is double that of an average European, and seven times the average per capita consumption by an Asian or African.  Of note also is the spiraling consumption in China and India which provide habitat to over a third of the 6.1 billion humans.

  • Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Florida, USAEnvironmental education: Nature centers just unnatural
    (Steve Scauzillo, Pasadena Star News, 3 December, 2004)

    Nature groups pour millions into buildings that sit alongside building-less nature preserves.  Too often, these so-called nature centers are nothing more than banal buildings that advertise politicians' names and are stuffed with useless paraphernalia.  Nature centers must be alluring, hands on, interesting. Or they shouldn't be built at all.

  • Mt. Everest (from www.npr.org/programs/ re/archivesdate/)Everest warming: Greener mountains of the future?
    (MountEverest.net, 17 November, 2004)

    Global warming is affecting our mountains, the polar areas and the oceans.  Only a few decades from now we'll be paddling to the North Pole and scaling green Seven Summits.  Research shows that by 2020, the snows of Kilimanjaro may exist only in photographs, and by 2050, the Arctic Sea may be completely ice-free during summertime.

  • Outdoor education key to tackling future climate change
    (British Ecological Society, 3 November, 2004)

    The British Ecological Society is warning that without making outdoor education a statutory part of every child’s schooling, the UK government risks undermining its ability to tackle important environmental issues such as climate change.

  • Old nature, new nature: Environmental activities for growing people & planets
    (James Neill, 2004, 1st ed., Outdoor Education Research & Evaluation Center)

    This 12-page booklet is designed an inspirational and practical primer for simple environmental activities which can be applied in many settings and which focus on raising ecological and environmental awareness and developing eco-sustainable behavior.

  • Environmental education in New Zealand schools: Research into current practice and future possibilities
    (New Zealand Council for Educational Research and Waikato University, 2004)

    This research, presented in four volumes, looked at current practice in environmental education in New Zealand schools using a range of methods – a literature review of national and international practice [vol. 2], a national survey of schools [vol. 3], and eight case studies looking at schools where environmental education is a strong focus [vol. 4]. Vol. 1 provides the key findings from each of the research components. It's clear from the report that for environmental education to provide immediate and lasting benefits, there needs to be a whole-school commitment to planning and integration, rather than relying on one or two enthusiastic teachers to drive environmental change.

What are the goals of Environmental Education?

Environmental education programs often aim to:Environmental Education

(i) help students develop factual knowledge about the natural environment, particularly with regard to how ecosystems work and human impacts on the natural environment;

(ii) foster more positive perceptions about the value of the natural world;

(iii) develop eco-friendly habits, such as getting people to recycle and to produce less waste

(iv) engage students in environmental rejuvenation projects and action

(v) develop students' psychological and spiritual relationship with nature

Shallow Environmentalism vs. Deep Ecology

In Western-style environmental education, the focus is mostly on understanding ways in which humans and human systems impact on the environment and non-human natural systems (goals i, ii, iii and iv).  However, it is also important to teach and understand the impact of natural systems on human consciousness and human society (goal v).  For example, why do natural places seem to have a calming, even healing, effect on modern human beings?

A Systems Model for the Relationship between Humans and the Environment

Figure 1. A systems model for the relationship between humans and the environment

This model is part of a more elaborate systems model for outdoor education, involving individual, group, instructor, activity, program, environment, and culture.

Environmental Education Research

"Environmental Education Needs Whole-School Commitment":

Environmental education research has found that to provide immediate and lasting benefits, there needs to be a whole-school commitment to planning and integration, rather than relying on one or two enthusiastic teachers to drive environmental change (New Zealand Council for Educational Research and Waikato University, 2004).

Environmental Education Research - Academic print journal and e-journal, free online sample copy available, sign up for journal content alerts.

Environmental Education Links


Becker, L. M. (1977). The effect of the resident outdoor experience on attitudinal change toward environmental issues. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Northern Colorado, CO.

Crompton, J. L., & Sellar, C. (1981). Do outdoor experiences contribute to positive development in the affective domain? Journal of Environmental Education, 12(4), 21-29.

Falk, J., & Balling, J. (1980). The school field trip: Where you go makes the difference. Science and Children, 17(6), *.

Falk, J., & Balling, J. (1982). The field trip milieu: Learning and behaviour as a function of contextual events. Journal of Educational Research, 76(1), *.

Fallis, J. (1991). Moving beyond apathy to environmental action. Journal of Experiential Education, 14(1), 27-30.

Glock, J., Wertz, S., Meyer, M. Discovering the naturalist intelligence: Science in the schoolyard. Acorn Naturalists.

Spacht, R. J. (1980). The relationship between environmental concern and participation in a selected high adventure program. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Indiana University.