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Does Outdoor Education Really Work?  A Summary of Recent Meta-analyses

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James T. Neill
Garry E. Richards

Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 3(1), 2-9, 1998

Abstract

As the empirical literature about the effects of outdoor education grows, it is important that emerging trends are reviewed and the implications for practice discussed. Traditional reviews of the literature have created impressionistic narratives of the research evidence. An alternative approach is to use ‘meta-analysis’ which is a way of combining the outcome statistics from many different studies into a single, overview study. Three meta-analyses of the effects of outdoor education have been conducted (Cason & Gillis, 1994; Hans, 1997; Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997). Overall these studies, representing over 12,000 participants, show that outdoor education has a small to medium impact on typically measured outcomes such as changes in self-concept, self-confidence and locus of control. These effects seem not only to be retained over time but to increase still further, which is impressive. The most effective programs seem to be longer, involve adult-age participants and to be conducted by some particular organisations. Recommendations are made for more detailed description of how programs are conducted and investigation of the role that individual differences, such as personality and coping styles, have on outcomes. Finally it is argued that more widespread use of ‘educational auditing’ research techniques would help develop program quality.

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