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Outdoor Education Research

Graduate Study Index

Ideas for
Outdoor Education Research Topics

James Neill
Last updated:
15 Nov 2004


Replication is an underestimated research method.  It is appropriate when a novel study has been conducted and its findings deserve testing out using the same methodology but in a different setting, with different participants.  It is also very appropriate where students are undertaking formal research for the first time and particularly, for example, when a study needs to completed within a year.

Perhaps more importantly, there are too few replication studies in outdoor education.  Make sure you choose a novel study for which there are clear benefits in testing the methodology in another setting.  Here are few examples of studies which could be justifiably replicated, but there are many more:

  • Simon Priest's CATINet studies which focused on the effect of different program sequences and facilitation styles would make for ideal replication studies in different settings.

  • James Neill and Katica Dias' (2001) study of large effects of an Outward Bound program on psychological resilience could be replicated with other classic OB-type programs.  The measures of social support could be expanded and improved.

  • Camille Bunting's studies of the physiological effects of ropes course experiences deserve replication studies and addition of corresponding psychological measures [her studies are mostly in hard copy, e.g., see Journal of Experiential Education]

Test a theory

Good research is theory-driven.  Even if you start with a practical question, try to situate the question within a theoretical context.  This gives you informative literature to read and helps to broaden and deepen your topic of study.  This should also help you to develop a "research question" which should have a theoretical basis but also be testable.

There are many underlying assumptions, implicit theories and explicit theories which guide the way much outdoor education is conducted.  For example, the idea that challenging people beyond their comfort zones is common can be beneficial is often used in outdoor education.  But there is newer research now in outdoor education suggesting that although such experiences can be beneficial so can outdoor activities which are not so stressful.

Familiarize yourself with various theories of outdoor education and note what theories intrigue or attract you the most.

Partner with a field program

Good research is practice-driven.  Even if you start with a theoretical question, try to situate the question within a practical context.  This gives you the reality of real field work to shape and focus your topic of study.  Conducting your study in a real world setting helps to ensure your "research question" will have practical relevance.

There are many practical aspects in outdoor education which deserve attention, e.g.,

  • Industry surveys
  • Staff surveys
  • Market surveys
  • Delphi studies of outdoor education experts
  • Medical incident studies
  • Psychological incident studies
  • Studies of how new ideas emerge in outdoor education programs
  • Cross-cultural study of outdoor education
  • Comparing effects of different program models
  • Comparing effects of different types of activities

List of possible outdoor education research topics

  • What are the effects of outdoor education on outcomes such as: moral development, self-constructs (such as self-esteem, self-confidence, self-concept, self-efficacy), social constructs (such as social capital, social support, communication, and teamwork), academic qualities (such as academic self-concept, academic performance), physical well-being (such as physical fitness), psychological well-being (such as optimism and life satisfaction), and dysfunctions (such as truancy, mental illness, etc.) of participants?  For a list of 40 previously measured types of outcomes in outdoor education, see the meta-analytic study by Hattie, Marsh, Neill and Richards (1997).
  • What is the role of particular program (e.g., program philosophy, type of organization), group (e.g., group size, gender mix), instructor (e.g., facilitation style, training), and individual (e.g, personality) factors in determining particular outcomes (such as those mentioned above)?  For a review of literature on the main categories of possible process factors, see the article by McKenzie (2000).
  • What is the history of a particular aspect of outdoor education?  A historical or delphi study could be conducted.
  • What is the future of a particular aspect of outdoor education?  A historical or delphi study could be conducted.
  • Meta-analyses of the effects of particular types of programs or processes.
  • Develop of new research methods (e.g., Experience Sampling Method, idiographic methods) and new research tools (e.g., Life Effectiveness Questionnaire) can constitute a focus for thesis work.
  • Replication studies can be also make for excellent graduate thesis.  This is where you use the methodology of a previous study in a new study in order to examine the validity of the previous study's findings in a different context.
  • What is the effect of reflective journal writing during outdoor education programs on participantsí personal development?