What is it?
Outdoor adventure learning typically involves outdoor experiences, such as climbing or mountaineering; survival, ropes or assault courses; or outdoor sports, such as orienteering, sailing and canoeing. These can be organised as intensive residential courses or shorter courses run in schools or local outdoor centres.
Adventure education usually involves collaborative learning experiences with a high level of physical (and often emotional) challenge. Practical problem-solving, explicit reflection and discussion of thinking and emotion (see also Metacognition and self-regulation) may also be involved.
Adventure learning interventions typically do not include a formal academic component, so this summary does not include forest schools or field trips.
How effective is it?
Overall, studies of adventure learning interventions consistently show positive benefits on academic learning. On average, students who participate in adventure learning interventions make approximately four additional months’ progress. There is also evidence of an impact on non-cognitive outcomes such as self-confidence.
The evidence suggests that the impact is greater for more vulnerable students and older learners (teenagers), longer courses (more than a week), and those in a ‘wilderness’ setting, though other types of intervention still show some positive impacts.
Understanding why adventure learning interventions appear to improve academic outcomes is not straightforward. One assumption might be that non-cognitive skills such as perseverance and resilience are developed through adventure learning and that these skills have a knock-on impact on academic outcomes. If adventure learning interventions are effective because of their impact on non-cognitive skills, then explicitly encouraging students to actively apply these skills in the classroom is likely to increase effectiveness. However, it should be noted that the wider evidence base on the relationship between these non-cognitive skills and student achievement is underdeveloped.
Australian-based research indicates that outdoor adventure learning programs are associated with positive physical, social and emotional outcomes for students. However, there is little available evidence to suggest that Australian outdoor adventure learning programs have led directly to better academic performance.
How secure is the evidence?
The evidence on adventure learning interventions is moderately secure. The range of effect sizes is fairly wide but all the studies included in the meta-analysis show a positive effect.
What are the costs?
Costs vary with a five-day adventure camp estimated at $490 per student and a 2-10 day outdoor camp costing between $80-$180 per student per day. An adventure ropes course is estimated at about $40 for a day. Overall, costs are estimated at $600 per student per year and are therefore moderate.
What should I consider?
A wide range of adventure activities are linked with increased academic achievement.
Experiences that last over a week tend to have greater impact and tend to produce effects of a longer duration.
It is important to work with well-trained and well-qualified staff as adventure experiences can pose very different physical and emotional risks to those experienced in schools.
Outdoor adventure experiences could have positive impacts on self-confidence, self-efficacy and motivation. How will you maximise the impact on learning by ensuring students apply these skills when they return to the classroom?