Outdoor Education Theory

Resilience & Outdoor Education

James Neill
Last updated:
09 May 2006

What's New?

  • Resilience & outdoor education: Overview of theory, research and practice
    (James Neill, 2004, Keynote presentation to the 1st Singapore Outdoor Education Conference)
    Developing psychological resilience is one of the most relevant applications of outdoor education in the  increasingly sedentary 21st century Western societies. This presentation explores theory, research and practice about the promising extent to which outdoor education can boost resilience.

Resilience & outdoor education

Building psychological resilience is an underlying intention of "development-by-stress" or "stress inoculation" training philosophies, such as as in outdoor education programsKurt Hahn referred to the difficult, challenging nature of Outward Bound courses, for example, as a double-edged sword that cut and healed the participant even stronger. Think about it how often do you see in photos of indigenous tribespeople, that they have scars or tattoos from initiation rituals. To become resilience, we need to engage in experiences which cut us mentally and physically, but experiences which leave us stronger for the experience.

Research on resilience & outdoor education

Many of the self-related constructs that appear to be enhanced through outdoor education are generally thought to closely related to resilience, including hardiness, self-confidence, and self-efficacy (Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997). 

In addition, studies by Neill and Dias (2001) and Skehill (2001) have investigated and found mixed results about the effects of outdoor education programs on psychological resilience.  Neill and Dias found substantial enhancements of psychological resilience through three week Outward Bound Australia programs for young adults.  On the other hand, Skehill found no impacts of an extended stay outdoor education program for high school students in Australia.


Hattie, J., Marsh, H. W., Neill, J. T., & Richards, G. E. (1997). Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference. Review of Educational Research, 67, 43-87.

Neill, J. T. (2003). Resilience and outdoor education. Keynote presentation to the 1st Singapore Outdoor Education Conference, Dairy Fair Adventure Centre, Singapore, November 5-6.

Neill, J. T., & Dias, K. L. (2001). Adventure education and resilience: The double-edged sword. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 1(2), 35-42.

Skehill, C. M. (2001). Resilience, coping with an extended stay outdoor education program, and adolescent mental health. Unpublished Honours thesis, University of Canberra, Australia. Abstract [.pdf]  Full thesis [.pdf]