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Why do we gain from learning in the great outdoors?

Two adventure learning programmes from the Education Endowment Foundation will be studied to ascertain their academic benefit

Posted by Julian Owen | December 19, 2018 | Teaching

A new study will test two different adventure learning programmes, looking to help improve pupils’ behaviour and boost their attainment, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has announced. The Adventure Learning trial will be focused on outdoor activities such as hiking and canoeing, the other - Outward Bound, or Commando Joe's - based on challenging activities with military veterans.

2,300 Year 9 pupils will take part in the EEF-funded programmes.

Pupils in the Outward Bound group will go on an intensive five day residential in wild settings in North Wales, the Lake District or Scotland. They’ll take part in challenging, adventurous activities, such as rock climbing and gorge scrambling.

Trained outdoor learning instructors will deliver the course in collaboration with teachers from the pupils’ schools. Skills such as resilience and motivation will be taught alongside learning strategies such as growth mindset theory, goal setting and feedback, with the aim of boosting attainment in the classroom.

The pupils in the Commando Joe’s group will take part in challenging activities over five consecutive days. Pupils will be asked to respond to an imagined nationwide blackout by supporting one another to implement an emergency response: laying equipment, setting up shelters and rescuing injured people.

We’re excited to have been selected as one of the interventions in this trial as it will give teachers, as well as the wider industry, the opportunity to deeper understand how adventure learning can improve the life chances for young people. Nick Barrett, CEO of The Outward Bound Trust

Delivered in schools, the course will combine physical activity with the use of metacognitive skills and instructor-facilitated reflection sessions, to try to improve attainment, behaviour and other skills such as perseverance and teamwork.

An independent team from Sheffield Hallam University will evaluate the Adventure Learning trial to find out what impact it has on the pupils’ outcomes in self-regulation and maths, as well as their relationships in school and behaviour in the classroom.

According to the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, outdoor adventure learning programmes can lead to academic gains of up to four months. Less is known about why these sorts of programmes have an impact.

“It might be that pupils develop skills like perseverance and resilience through adventure learning that have a knock-on impact on academic outcomes, said Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the EEF, “or it might be that these programmes help boost engagement in lessons. This major new trial will help develop our understanding and provide valuable and relevant evidence for schools and teachers to use in their decision making.”

Nick Barrett, CEO of The Outward Bound Trust, said: “Since 1941, at Outward Bound we’ve learnt the outdoors is a different kind of teacher, providing personal experiences you won’t get from the traditional classroom. We’re excited to have been selected as one of the interventions in this trial as it will give teachers, as well as the wider industry, the opportunity to deeper understand how adventure learning can improve the life chances for young people.”

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