Meta analysis offers a powerful
way of helping to answer the broad question: "In what ways,
and to what extent, does the experience of an outdoor education program
effect participants?". Meta-analytic studies can also help with regard to specific questions
such as about the role of gender, program length, etc. on program outcomes.
Across the available meta-analyses of outdoor education and related
programs, the overall effect sizes are small-moderate (approximately .3 to
.4). This generally supports claims that outdoor education can be an effective
personal and social development training method. However, there is a wide diversity of outcomes and
therefore caution should be exercised in generalising from meta-analytic results to
any specific program.
Neill (2002) is an update of the Neill and
Richards (1998) summary of outdoor education meta-analyses. A more specific summary of meta-analyses with regard to adventure therapy outcomes
can be found in Neill (2003).
Neill, J. T. (2002, January).
Meta-analytic research on the outcomes of outdoor education. Paper presented to the 6th Biennial Coalition for Education in the Outdoors Research Symposium, Bradford Woods, IN.
- Updated version of Neill and Richards (1998). Summarizes five
outdoor education meta-analyses. Indepth, includes comparisons to related
meta-analyses from other fields. Reasonably up-to-date.
Neill, J. T. (2003).
Reviewing and benchmarking adventure therapy outcomes: Applications of
meta-analysis. Journal of Experiential Education, 25(3),
- Summarizes available meta-analytic evidence related to adventure
therapy and proposes use of benchmarking in adventure therapy.
Neill, J. T. & Richards, G. E. (1998).
Does outdoor education really work? A summary of recent
meta-analyses. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 3(1),
- Summarizes three outdoor eduction meta-analyses - Cason & Gillis (1994), Hattie, et
al. (1997) and Marsh (1999). Straightforward introduction to these
studies, but now somewhat outdated.
There have been seven meta-analytic studies of outdoor education and
closely related literature, such as camping and adventure therapy (Bunting & Donley,
2002; Cason & Gillis, 1994;
Hans, 2000; Hattie, et
al., 1997; Marsh, 1999;
Staunton, 2003; Wilson & Lipsey, 2000).
The largest, best-known and most often cited meta-analysis is the one by Hattie, et
al., followed by Cason and Gillis (1994)
which concentrates on adventure program findings with adolescents. The
studies and their overall findings are summarised in Table 1 and each is
briefly described below.
Overall results from seven meta-analyses related to outdoor education
(adapted and updated from Table 1 in Neill, 2002))
|Bunting & Donley (2002)
|Cason & Gillis (1994)
||Adventure programming for adolescents
|Gillis & Speelman (2008)
||Ropes challenge courses
|Hattie et al. (1997)
||Adventure education and Outward Bound programs
||Adventure programming locus of control outcomes
|Marsh, P. E. (1999)
||Adventure therapy programs
Wilson & Lipsey (2000)
Delinquent youth in wilderness programs
Bunting, C. J., & Donley, J. P. (2002). Ten years of challenge
A review of affective outcome studies. Poster presented at the 6th
Coalition for the Education in the Outdoors Research Symposium, January
11-13, Bradford Woods, IN.
Cason, D., & Gillis, H. L. (1994).
A meta-analysis of outdoor adventure programming with adolescents.
Journal of Experiential Education, 17, 40-47. (.8MB)
- A meta-analysis of 15 studies, focusing on the team
development and self-development effects of ropes challenge courses.
Overall effect size = .55
Gillis, H. L., & Speelman, E. (2008).
Are challenge (ropes) courses an effective tool? A meta-analysis. Journal
of Experiential Education.
- The second-most frequently cited outdoor education
meta-analysis, focused on adolescents (~30 studies). Easy to read,
with a good introduction, based on a Masters thesis. Reports on
seven outcome categories, including psychological constructs
(Self-concept and Locus of Control) and outcomes categorized in terms of
the measurement instrument or techniques (Behavioural Assessment by
Others, Attitude Surveys, Clinical Scales, Grades, School Attendance).
Overall effect size = .31.
- A meta-analysis of 44 studies (390 effects) of ropes challenge
course-type program published between 1986 and 2006 outcomes (average
length of program = 15 hours). Overall, these studies had a medium ES
(0.43). Notably Gillis and Speelman only included studies with control
groups, thus the estimated effects were relative to controls. Higher
effects were found for adult groups and for studies measuring family
functioning and group dynamics. Studies with a developmental or
therapeutic foci had higher ESs than those with an educational focus.
Hans, T. (2000). A meta-analysis of the effects of
adventure programming on locus of control. Journal of Contemporary
Penultimate draft (.2MB).
Hattie, J., Marsh, H. W., Neill, J. T., & Richards, G. E.
Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that
make a lasting difference. Review of Educational
Research, 67, 43-87.
- A small meta-analysis of about
10 studies, focusing on the effects of adventure therapy type programs
on locus of control, based on Masters thesis. Overall effect size = .38
Marsh, P. E. (1999). What does
camp do for kids? A meta-analysis of the influence of organized camping
experience on the self constructs of youth.
Unpublished Master of Science Thesis, Department of Recreation and Park
Administration, Indiana University, IN.
- The most widely cited and comprehensive meta-analysis of the effects of
adventure education. The introduction and discussion provides
insightful commentary on theory, practice and research in the adventure
education field. Reports outcomes in terms of 40 effects organised
into six categories of outcome constructs (Leadership, Self-concept,
Academic, Personality, Interpersonal, and Adventuresome). Overall
effect size = .34, plus .17 followup effect size.
Staunton, N. (2003).
A meta-analysis of adventure therapy
program outcomes. Unpublished Master's thesis, University
of New Hampshire, NH.
- A meta-analysis on the effects
of American summer camps on self-esteem and self-concept (about 30
studies). Overall effect size = .20.
Wilson, S. J. & Lipsey, M. W. (2000).
challenge programs for delinquent youth: A meta-analysis of outcome
evaluations. Evaluation and Program Planning, 23,
- Staunton (2003) conducted a meta-analysis of adventure therapy
programs, with data representing 17 studies, 95 effects, and 879
participants conducted between 1969 and 2003. There was a moderate
short-term ES of 0.53 (91 effects), and a small-moderate long-term
overall ES of 0.35 (4 effects). Remarkably, all 95 estimated effects
- A small meta-analysis (22 studies), focusing on wilderness programs
for youth at risk. Findings indicate a small overall effect size (.18), with all
studies reporting positive results. Physical program intensity and
therapeutic enhancements positively predicted outcomes. The
authors are well known for their expertise in meta-analysis.
Overall effect size = .18.