Effects of Regular Classes in Outdoor Education Settings: A Systematic Review on Students’ Learning, Social and Health Dimensions



Participants in Outdoor Education Programmes (OEPs) presumably benefit from these programmes in terms of their social and personal development, academic achievement and physical activity (PA). The aim of this systematic review was to identify studies about regular compulsory school- and curriculum-based OEPs, to categorise and evaluate reported outcomes, to assess the methodological quality, and to discuss possible benefits for students.


We searched online databases to identify English- and German-language peer-reviewed journal articles that reported any outcomes on a student level. Two independent reviewers screened studies identified for eligibility and assessed the methodological quality.


Thirteen studies were included for analysis. Most studies used a case-study design, the average number of participants was moderate (mean valued (M) = 62.17; standard deviation (SD) = 64.12), and the methodological quality was moderate on average for qualitative studies (M = 0.52; SD = 0.11), and low on average for quantitative studies (M = 0.18; SD = 0.42). Eight studies described outcomes in terms of social dimensions, seven studies in learning dimensions and four studies were subsumed under additional outcomes, i.e., PA and health. Eleven studies reported positive, one study positive as well as negative, and one study reported negative effects. PA and mental health as outcomes were underrepresented.


Tendencies were detected that regular compulsory school- and curriculum-based OEPs can promote students in respect of social, academic, physical and psychological dimensions. Very little is known concerning students’ PA or mental health. We recommend conducting more quasi-experimental design and longitudinal studies with a greater number of participants, and a high methodological quality to further investigate these tendencies.

Read the Research



  1. Waite S., Bølling M., Bentsen P. Comparing apples and pears? A conceptual framework for understanding forms of outdoor learning through comparison of English forest schools and Danish udeskole. Environ. Educ. Res. 2015:1–25. doi: 10.1080/13504622.2015.1075193. – DOI
  2. Rickinson M., Dillon J., Teamey K., Morris M., Choi M., Sanders D., Benefield P. A Review of Research on Outdoor Learning. [(accessed on 1 March 2017)]; Available online: https://www.field-studies-council.org/media/268859/2004_a_review_of_rese….
  3. Hattie J.A., Marsh H.W., Neill J.T., Richards G.E. Adventure education and outward bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference. Rev. Educ. Res. 1997;67:43–87. doi: 10.3102/00346543067001043. – DOI
  4. Mygind E. A comparison between children’s physical activity levels at school and learning in an outdoor environment. J. Adv. Educ. Outdoor Learn. 2007;2:161–176. doi: 10.1080/14729670701717580. – DOI
  5. Gustafsson P.E., Szczepanski A., Nelson N., Gustafsson P.A. Effects of an outdoor education intervention on the mental health of schoolchildren. J. Adv. Educ. Outdoor Learn. 2012;12:63–79. doi: 10.1080/14729679.2010.532994. – DOI
  6. Hartmeyer R., Mygind E. A retrospective study of social relations in a Danish primary school class taught in “udeskole”. J. Adv. Educ. Outdoor Learn. 2015;16:78–89. doi: 10.1080/14729679.2015.1086659. – DOI
  7. Mygind E. A comparison of children’s statements about social relations and teaching in the classroom and in the outdoor environment. J. Adv. Educ. Outdoor Learn. 2009;9:151–169. doi: 10.1080/14729670902860809. – DOI
  8. Fägerstam E., Samuelsson J. Learning arithmetic outdoors in junior high school—Influence on performance and self-regulating skills. Education. 2014;42:419–431. doi: 10.1080/03004279.2012.713374. – DOI
  9. Allison P. Six waves of outdoor education and still in a state of confusion: Dominant thinking and category mistakes. Kwartalnik Pedagogiczny. 2016;2:176–184. (In Polish)
  10. Bentsen P., Mygind E., Randrup T.B. Towards an understanding of udeskole: Education outside the classroom in a Danish context. Education. 2009;3:29–44.
  11. Waite S. Teaching and learning outside the classroom: Personal values, alternative pedagogies and standards. Education. 2011;39:65–82. doi: 10.1080/03004270903206141. – DOI
  12. Bentsen P., Jensen F.S., Mygind E., Randrup T.B. The extent and dissemination of udeskole in Danish schools. Urban For. Urban Green. 2010;9:235–243. doi: 10.1016/j.ufug.2010.02.001. – DOI
  13. Barfod K., Ejbye-Ernst N., Mygind L., Bentsen P. Increased provision of udeskole in Danish schools: An updated national population survey. Urban For. Urban Green. 2016;20:277–281. doi: 10.1016/j.ufug.2016.09.012. – DOI
  14. The Danish Ministry of Education . Improving the Public School. The Danish Ministry of Education; Copenhagen, Danmark: 2014.
  15. Bavarian Federal Ministry for Education, Cultural Affairs and Science. [(accessed on 3 March 2017)]; Available online: https://www.km.bayern.de/
  16. Finnish National Board of Education. [(accessed on 1 March 2017)]; Available online: http://www.oph.fi/english.
  17. Mikkola A. Auf Weite Sicht. Reformen: Schon Wieder Finnland Im Porträt: Simone Fleischmann (Finnland -Armi Mikkola Über Radikale Reformen Aus Helsinki) [(accessed on 3 March 2017)]; Available online: https://www.bllv.de/fileadmin/Dateien/Land-PDF/BLLV-Medien/BS/Internt_Ba….
  18. Scrutton R., Beames S. Measuring the unmeasurable: Upholding rigor in quantitative studies of personal and social development in outdoor adventure education. J. Exper. Educ. 2015;38:8–25. doi: 10.1177/1053825913514730. – DOI
  19. Cason D., Gillis H.L. A meta-analysis of outdoor adventure programming with adolescents. J. Exper. Educ. 1994;17:40–47. doi: 10.1177/105382599401700109. – DOI
  20. Fiennes C., Oliver E., Dickson K., Escobar D., Romans A., Oliver S. The Existing Evidence-Base about the Effectiveness of Outdoor Learning. [(accessed on 1 March 2017)]; Available online: http://www.outdoor-learning.org/Portals/0/IOL%20Documents/Blagrave%20Rep….
  21. Newman M., Elbourne D. Improving the usability of educational research: Guidelines for the reporting of primary empirical research studies in education (the REPOSE guidelines) Eval. Res. Educ. 2004;18:201–212. doi: 10.1080/09500790408668319. – DOI
  22. Moher D., Shamseer L., Clarke M., Ghersi D., Liberati A., Petticrew M., Shekelle P., Stewart L.A., Group P.-P. Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015 statement. Syst. Rev. 2015;4:1. doi: 10.1186/2046-4053-4-1. – DOI – PMC – PubMed
  23. Dettweiler U., Ünlü A., Lauterbach G., Legl A., Simon P., Kugelmann C. Alien at home: Adjustment strategies of students returning from a six-months over-sea’s educational programme. Int. J. Intercult. Relat. 2015;44:72–87. doi: 10.1016/j.ijintrel.2014.10.005. – DOI
  24. Child Care and Early Education Research Connections. [(accessed on 1 March 2017)]; Available online: https://www.researchconnections.org/childcare/welcome.
  25. Lockwood C., Munn Z., Porritt K. Qualitative research synthesis: Methodological guidance for systematic reviewers utilizing meta-aggregation. Int. J. Evid. Based Healthc. 2015;13:179–187. doi: 10.1097/XEB.0000000000000062. – DOI – PubMed
  26. Noyes J., Hannes K., Booth A., Harris J., Harden A., Popay J., Pearson A., Pantoja T. Qualitative Research and Cochrane Reviews. The Cochrane Collaboration; London, UK: 2015.
  27. Wistoft K. The desire to learn as a kind of love: Gardening, cooking, and passion in outdoor education. J. Adv. Educ. Outdoor Learn. 2013;13:125–141. doi: 10.1080/14729679.2012.738011. – DOI
  28. Martin B., Bright A., Cafaro P., Mittelstaedt R., Bruyere B. Assessing the development of environmental virtue in 7th and 8th grade students in an expeditionary learning outward bound school. J. Exper. Educ. 2009;31:341–358. doi: 10.1177/105382590803100303. – DOI
  29. Santelmann M., Gosnell H., Meyers S.M. Connecting children to the land: Place-based education in the muddy creek watershed, Oregon. J. Geogr. 2011;110:91–106. doi: 10.1080/00221341.2011.534172. – DOI
  30. Ernst J., Stanek D. The prairie science class: A model for re-visioning environmental education within the national wildlife refuge system. Hum. Dimens. Wildl. 2006;11:255–265. doi: 10.1080/10871200600803010. – DOI
  31. Moeed A., Averill R. Education for the environment: Learning to care for the environment: A longitudinal case study. Int. J. Learn. 2010;17:179–192.
  32. Sharpe D. Independent thinkers and learners: A critical evaluation of the “growing together schools programme”. Pastoral. Care Educ. 2014;32:197–207. doi: 10.1080/02643944.2014.940551. – DOI
  33. Fiskum T.A., Jacobsen K. Outdoor education gives fewer demands for action regulation and an increased variability of affordances. J. Adv. Educ. Outdoor Learn. 2013;13:76–99. doi: 10.1080/14729679.2012.702532. – DOI
  34. Bowker R., Tearle P. Gardening as a learning environment: A study of children’s perceptions and understanding of school gardens as part of an international project. Learn. Environ. Res. 2007;10:83–100. doi: 10.1007/s10984-007-9025-0. – DOI
  35. Taylor G., Jungert T., Mageau G.A., Schattke K., Dedic H., Rosenfield S., Koestner R. A self-determination theory approach to predicting school achievement over time: The unique role of intrinsic motivation. Contemp. Educ. Psychol. 2014;39:342–358. doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2014.08.002. – DOI
  36. Dettweiler U., Lauterbach G., Becker C., Ünlü A., Gschrey B. Investigating the motivational behaviour of pupils during outdoor science teaching within self-determination theory. Front. Psychol. 2015;6:125. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00125. – DOI – PMC – PubMed
  37. Wang C.K.J., Ang R.P., Teo-Koh S.M., Kahlid A. Motivational predictors of young adolescents’ participation in an outdoor adventure course: A self-determination theory approach. J. Adv. Educ. Outdoor Learn. 2004;4:57–65. doi: 10.1080/14729670485200421. – DOI
  38. Sproule J., Martindale R., Wang J., Allison P., Nash C., Gray S. Investigating the experience of outdoor and adventurous project work in an educational setting using a self-determination framework. Eur. Phys. Educ. Rev. 2013;19:315–328. doi: 10.1177/1356336X13495629. – DOI
  39. Verloigne M., Van Lippevelde W., Maes L., Yıldırım M., Chinapaw M., Manios Y., Androutsos O., Kovács É., Bringolf-Isler B., Brug J., et al. Levels of physical activity and sedentary time among 10- to 12-year-old boys and girls across 5 European countries using accelerometers: An observational study within the energy-project. Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act. 2012;9:1–8. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-9-34. – DOI – PMC – PubMed
  40. Merikangas K.R., Nakamura E.F., Kessler R.C. Epidemiology of mental disorders in children and adolescents. Dialogues Clin. Neurosci. 2009;11:7–20. – PMC – PubMed
  41. Andrews R. The place of systematic reviews in education research. Br. J. Educat. Stud. 2005;53:399–416. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8527.2005.00303.x. – DOI
  42. OECD The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice. [(accessed on 1 March 2017)]; Available online: https://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/50300814.pdf.
  43. Nielsen G., Mygind E., Bølling M., Otte C.R., Schneller M.B., Schipperijn J., Ejbye-Ernst N., Bentsen P. A quasi-experimental cross-disciplinary evaluation of the impacts of education outside the classroom on pupils’ physical activity, well-being and learning: The teachout study protocol. BMC Public Health. 2016;16:1117. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-3780-8. – DOI – PMC – PubMed
We Acknowledge
Nature Play WA acknowledges the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation, as the custodians of the land where our team lives and works. We also acknowledge the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and recognise the continuing connection of Indigenous people to their land, waters, sky, culture and community. We pay our respect to all Indigenous people of this land; ancestors, elders and young ones.