Meta-analytic Research on the Outcomes of Outdoor Education


James T. Neill

Paper presented to the 6th Biennial Coalition for Education in the Outdoors Research Symposium, January 11-13, Bradford Woods, IN, 2002


The impacts of outdoor education programs on participants remains a topic of much interest to practitioners and researchers.  Hundreds of empirical pre-post studies have been conducted in an attempt to better understand the impacts.  Typically, psychosocial constructs such as self-concept are measured before and after outdoor education programs.  In order to summarize the results of such studies, five relevant meta-analyses have been conducted (Bunting & Donley, 2002; Cason & Gillis, 1994; Hans, 2000; Marsh, P. E., 1999; Marsh, H. W., Neill, & Richards, 1997).  These research reviews show that outdoor education programs have small-moderate impacts on constructs such as self-concept, locus of control, and teamwork.  Impressively, the effects appeared to be retained over time.  The most effective programs were conducted by particular organizations, involved adult participants, and were longer.  Comparisons to meta-analyses for other types of interventions revealed that outdoor education program impacts were similar to other self-concept change programs and other psychological interventions, but not as powerful as individual psychotherapy.  Recommendations that emerged from this research review were that future research should seek to understand more about why different programs and different participants achieve different outcomes and for effect sizes to be used by outdoor education programs to monitor educational effectiveness.

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