Research Guide

Summary of the Effects of Outdoor Education Programs
or "Does Outdoor Education Work?"

James Neill
Last updated:
02 May 2006

Does outdoor education work?  The research evidence indicates that the effectiveness of outdoor education programming on average is positive and roughly equivalent to other innovative psychosocial interventions. 

The overall message from the research is that outdoor education has clear potential, if well designed, to foster enhancements of personal and social aspects of learning and development.  Read more about the overall effectiveness of outdoor education...

In addition, at least 11 factors appear to influence what happens to participants during a program and the overall effects of the program.

More indepth reading:

Overall effectiveness

Outdoor education programs have been found to be moderately effective in influencing typically measured outcomes, such as self-esteem and teamwork. 

The most commonly researched outcomes have been self constructs such as:

 social constructs such as:

  • teamwork and
  • leadership,

and other more applied outcomes such as

  • academic achievement and
  • recidivism

In the single, most significant study of outdoor education outcomes, Hattie, Marsh, Neill, and Richards (1997) conducted a meta-analysis of 97 studies and, overall, found moderate short-term and long-term effects.  There was, however, notable variation in outcomes depending on the type of program and type of participant.

Note: An earlier version of this overall summary was published in International Education (1999) Vol.3, No. 4.