Can Outdoor Learning Equally Benefit Students and Teachers?

By Natalie Harling, Head of Education Business Development at The Outward Bound Trust. 

Flixton 1In the familiar, everyday surroundings of the classroom it’s the teacher’s job to teach and the student’s responsibility to learn. But can leaving the relative comfort of its four walls to embark on a challenging adventure course together in the far from familiar great outdoors not only enhance and broaden the learning experience for pupils but also bring significant benefits for teachers?

We are currently the only outdoor learning and development organisation in the UK to report on teachers’ feedback as well as that of students.  We continually measure and evaluate the short and long term benefits of the courses we run.   Last year nearly 22,000 students, accompanied by their teachers were taken away from their everyday routine and immersed into experiential outdoor learning in the safe but challenging outdoor locations - of mountains, on lakes, lochs and at sea.  

Flixton 2

Why do an outdoor learning course? Facing up to physical and mental challenges, which are so very different from those presented by conventional, school-based learning, helps students to acquire invaluable life skills, such as confidence, maturity, resilience, teamwork, communication, personal responsibility, independence and trust.

One school we work with, Flixton Girls School based in Manchester is no stranger to the benefits of outdoor experiential learning.  Since joining the school as Head Teacher in 2007 Julie Hazeldine has put in place a series of programmes with us to realise the schools vision: "Inspiring girls to discover their talents and fulfil their potential through our founding principles of aspiration, empowerment and excellence." 

The programmes have had a significant impact on helping the school to improve exam results from 39% 5 or more A* to C grades including English and Maths in 2007 to 74% in 2015 putting the school in the top 10% of schools in the North West.

What makes interesting but not surprising reading from our 2014 Teachers report is that 80 per cent of those surveyed said they had gained in some way themselves from a course. Undertaking its many tests and trials along with their students allowed them to observe their progress and achievements in new surroundings. Many claimed that this had led to a better understanding of their pupils’ abilities, revealed qualities that the young people did not or could not show at school and improved teacher/pupil relations.

Flixton 3Once back in the school environment after their Outward Bound experience teachers noted pupils had better attitudes to learning and observed heightened performance in class.   Some 92 per cent of teachers said students had boosted their skills in setting personal goals and 85 per cent believed students were likely to set themselves higher goals in the future.

Can outdoor learning really benefit students and teachers alike?  Well, if enabling students to improve their confidence, effort and perseverance is important, then yes.  If assisting teachers to enhance their relationships with their pupils, boost their own skills and their sense of personal achievement means anything to us within education, then it’s a resounding YES.

The Outward Bound Trust is an educational charity which provides bursary funding to schools to assist attendance on their residential programmes. To find out more visit our education pages here.

Original article featured in Education Today Magazine – November 2015 issue