Making a difference to countless young lives
A major study spanning decades has led to sweeping global strategies affecting tens of thousands of young people accessing premium outdoor residential learning experiences.
Research by University of Cumbria Professors Heather Prince and Chris Loynes The strengthened British government is calling for all school-aged students to have progressive opportunities and its impact has spread as far as Taiwan and Singapore.
Through the Learning Away project, they have identified benefits for children in 63 UK schools, and as part of the Brilliant Residentials campaign – run by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom – they have boosted annual experiences of around 1 .8 million attendees.
Professors Prince and Loynes examined the impact of research on residential experiences and how they might change policy and practice.
The results have been substantial, influencing English and Welsh legislation, as well as Taiwanese government education policy. The Singapore Ministry of Education has developed a National Outdoor Adventure Education Master Plan based on research.
The main findings revealed considerable gains, including medium-term intellectual and social benefits, as well as better life opportunities. They also showed the importance of relationships between primary school children and their committed and confident teachers.
Learning Away was able to demonstrate how relationships, student engagement, progress, and achievement were all boosted by residencies. The work also led to seven research centers, with between 20 and 70 members, representing 250 organizations which maximized and extended the reach of the studies.
The most notable result, according to Professor Prince, has been policy changes here and abroad with many more openings for learning away from home in the great outdoors.
She added: “We are very happy to have been able to help our students at the University of Cumbria to make a real difference in the lives of young people. We receive a lot of feedback from teachers, both anecdotally and through our research, and we want to hear as much of the voices of pupils and students as possible.
Commenting on the value of outdoor learning, one teacher said life is not computer-generated or just social media. It was connecting with people, face to face and with environments, getting dirty, experiencing the real things and making memories. That said it all!”
“We have been very pleased with the interest our research has generated through published work, invitations to contribute to books and other publications, presentations and especially its impact on policy.”
“We are particularly proud of our graduates and their work in the outdoors. We have always wanted to make a difference!
An outdoor learning tome co-edited by Professor Prince has gone global and been adopted as an industry bible. It included authors and a doctoral student from the university’s Ambleside campus and was the first text of its kind on established and state-of-the-art research methods.
Professor Prince said the Routledge-published book, Research Methods in Outdoor Studies, filled a gap in an area of global concern and was an essential text for scholars looking for creative techniques.
His article in the International Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning has been downloaded more than any other since its publication in 2019.
The work has won top Celebrating Outdoor Learning Awards and is having a huge impact. In addition to influencing policy makers, this particularly benefits those established in the field and wishing to renew themselves, as well as those seeking to challenge conventional approaches, students and anyone new to research.
“Most of our work has focused on school children, but we have also looked at how sailing training can help young people and residential programs for postgraduates,” said Professor Prince.
“Many of these students are now leaders and practitioners working in the outdoors around the world. The reported effect of our research on practice has been substantial.
Professor Loynes explained how progressive outdoor opportunities had a transformational impact on pupils and youth groups.
He added: “We have seen how the residential experiences have a positive effect on the progress of the participants. The outcome for vulnerable students who, for personal and family reasons, are likely to be underachievers was critically important.
“Teachers told us how their students had gained confidence while away from home and how relationships had improved with peers and staff.
“They found new ways to be friendly with each other, experienced a sense of accomplishment, motivation and learned to be part of a community with growing respect for each other, helping with tasks and being proactive.”
Only about 20% of students per year are offered residential opportunities and on average children only have one chance for an outdoor learning adventure. In some urban areas, where income and prospects are low, they may get nothing.
The research showed a nine percent increase in schools offering residential experiences by 2017, reflecting greater recognition of benefits and changing policies.
The Glover Landscapes Review also stated that “every child should have a night under the stars”.
Although residences were suspended during the pandemic, providers said that as they began to reopen, there was renewed interest.
Prof Prince added: ‘While it will take some time to rebuild trust, we believe that during Covid teachers have really seen the potential of outdoor teaching and learning and we hope that will last.
“Our work continues with the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom and the Institute for Outdoor Learning. The university is leading the Research-Practice Hubs project across the UK. Researchers and practitioners come together to ensure that the right questions are asked and answered. We encourage practitioners to become researchers themselves.
For Professors Prince and Loynes, the ultimate goal would be to see every student have the opportunity to learn away from home during their school years, with the benefits continuing throughout their lives.
Photos: Professor Prince receives his award from Andy Robinson, CEO of the Institute for Outdoor Learning
Image: Children like to learn
Photo: Prof Chris Loynes
Photo: Prof Loynes in an outdoor classroom