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Summaries of Wilderness & Outdoor Education Articles

James Neill
Last updated:
24 Aug 2003

Overview of wilderness and outdoor education literature

Are there different effects for wilderness-based versus non-wilderness based outdoor education programs? 

Can we justify the damage to wilderness caused by mass participation in wilderness-based outdoor education programs (e.g., see Yerkes & Haras, 1997)?

In the following references, you can find links to online readings examining the role of the natural environment in outdoor education.  Here is a rough guide to what has been found:

  • There is a substantial literature on leisure and wilderness which is very relevant to the role of nature in outdoor education - William Borrie's work is an excellent example and testament to the potential for integration of leisure research and outdoor education research.  See also Floyd and Johnson (2002) and McReady (1997).

  • There is a substantial parks and recreation literature which examines issues such as the physical impact of human outdoor recreation on natural environments, satisfaction and other psychological responses of park users to outdoor recreation and wilderness-based activities, etc. - e.g., see Harding, Borrie, and Cole (2000).

  • There is a rapidly growing and substantial literature now in ecopsychology which has considerable potential for expanding our current conceptions of how outdoor education could become more powerful and relevant to society and nature.  e.g., see Segal (1997).

  • There is considerable work on the influence of natural environments on psychology and health which examines topics such as:

    • human psychology in extreme environments and conditions

    • human preferences for (and emotional and physiological to) different types of landscape scenes

    • the effects of contact with nature (e.g., viewing nature scenes, being in a natural environment, contact with animals) on physical and mental health (an excellent and well-cited overview of research in this area was written by Frumkin, 2001).  In the same journal, there were two replies to this article, and it was written up in many media reports (e.g., EarthSpirit, 2001).

  • There is a reasonable amount of literature exploring the question about what is environmental education versus outdoor education (some define the terms as virtually synonymous and others see major differences) - e.g., see Grant (1998) and Parkin (1998).

  • There is a limited amount of academic work on the effects of outdoor education programs with a deep wilderness philosophy.  In particular, for example, there is a considerable range of camps and outdoor programs in North America with a focus of survival, tracking and hunting skills.  There are also several outdoor education type programs which utilize indigenous-type methods, such as vision quests (e.g., Foster-Riley & Hendee, 1999).  Also visit the Indigenous Knowledge & Rites of Passage Outdoor Education page.

  • There is a limited amount of academic research work exploring the nature-environment interaction in outdoor education - Norm McIntyre's and Lea Scherl's work are notable exceptions.

  • Staff working in the outdoor education and nature tourism at Latrobe University, Australia have generated a sizeable literature on outdoor education, however very little is available online.  However, a comprehensive bibliography of recent Latrobe articles is available.  Note there are four main authors about wilderness in outdoor education who have emerged:

    • I recommend the work of Peter Martin to any student interested in better understanding how and why outdoor education should try to nurture the relationship that humans have with nature.

    • Almut Beringer articles examine and explore the spiritual and healing role of nature in outdoor education. 

    • Andrew Brookes is masterful at asking and examining some simple but profound questions about foundational concepts in outdoor education, including the perceived and actual role of nature and wilderness for humans in outdoor education. 

    • Deidre Slattery writes about the relations between environmental education, ecopsychology, and outdoor education.

  • The work of retired university professor Brian Nettleton (University of Melbourne) is intriguing -- it is somewhat quaint and almost childish in times with his delight in nature, Brian has worked in and explored connections to some interesting pieces of theoretical literature (such as Apter's reversal theory and the literature on the effects of different landscape scenes).  Currently, none of Brian Nettleton's work is available on the net.  The most accessible of his articles are those in the Australian Journal of Outdoor Education and the proceedings of past National Outdoor Education Conferences held in Australia.

  • Personal testaments about nature and outdoor experiences provide valuable qualitative and phenomenological insight into the human-nature interaction.  To this end, Graham Ellis-Smith's (2003) autiobiographical reflection on a life deeply connected with land through a discovery of indigeneity, I think is profound.  James Neill has also provided various reflective writings about the interactions between humans, nature, journeys and adventure.  Also see Gorrell's ecopsychological viewpoints on a Costa Rican Outward Bound program.