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Effects of regular classes in outdoor education settings: A systematic review on students' learning, social and health dimensions


Regular classes in outdoor settings can promote students’ learning, health, social development, and concern for the environment

This systematic review of the literature was conducted (1) to identify studies about compulsory school- and curriculum-based outdoor education programs (OEPs) for students aged 5-18, (2) to categorize and evaluate outcomes, (3) to assess the methodological quality of the studies, and (4) to discuss possible benefits of such programs for students. The OEPs included in this review offered regular weekly or bi-weekly classes in a natural or cultural environment outside the classroom for at least four hours per week over a period of at least two months. In these programs, the outdoor learning was an embedded component of the school’s curriculum. Only studies reporting at least one student outcome and published in English- and German-language peer-reviewed journals were included.

Only thirteen studies met the inclusion criteria, indicating that the current state of research on OEPs is relatively small. The goals, participant groups, learning environments, methods used and reported outcomes differed widely across the programs. The methodological quality of the studies was, on average, moderate. Eight studies reported outcomes in terms of social dimensions, seven in learning dimensions, and four in additional outcomes. Two studies in the “additional outcomes” category reported on students’ physical activity, one on students’ mental health, one on action regulation behavior, and one on students’ environmental attitude and behavior.

Social outcomes included improved social competencies and social relations, such as self-esteem, self-confidence, trusting relationships, and the sense of belonging. Learning outcomes included improved academic performance in several subjects and improved skills in transferring the knowledge gained to real life situations. Two studies reporting learning outcomes also reported possible benefits relating to learning motivation. The research on physical activity, mental health and action regulation behavior was underrepresented in comparison to results in learning and social dimensions. The study reporting mental health outcomes found a significant decrease in mental health problems for boys but not for girls. One study reported growth in students’ self-confidence, leading them to take active responsibility for the environment.

The overall results of this review indicate that regular compulsory school- and curriculum-based OEPs can promote students’ social, academic, physical and psychological development. Further research is needed, however, to support what this review reports as “tendencies” in relation to the reported outcomes. The authors recommend more quasi-experimental and longitudinal studies with a greater number of participants and high methodological quality.


Becker, C., Lauterbach, G., Spengler, S., Dettweiler, U., Mess, F., (2017). Effects of regular classes in outdoor education settings: A systematic review on students' learning, social and health dimensions. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14


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