Simon Beames, Peter Higgins & Robbie Nicol: Learning Outside the Classroom – Theory and Guidelines for Practice (2012)

The book" Learning Outside the Classroom – Theory and Guidelines for Practice" provides a solid framework of principles that educators, lawmakers, and others around the world can use as they develop their outdoors-related learning programs.

The authors come from University of Edinburgh, Scotland, a university that has well-known study-programs in Outdoor and Environmental Education on all levels. The book includes practical suggestions and approaches that can serve to increase the readers’ ability to connect the natural world and the outdoors to the learning and educational progress of young people.

Learning outside the classroom takes place in many arenas, but this book covers the school ground and the local neighbourhood or community, arenas where students can normally access all of the learning sites on foot or by public transport. The book is not a recipe book, but a collection of principles and guidelines to be considered and used to inform an integrated, holistic approach to teaching that has relevance to the cultures and communities, as well as to the landscapes and ecosystems in which students live and go to school. The authors stress that the book is intended for practicing teachers and teachers-in-training and will be valuable for other educational professionals and instructors, as well as for those who are interested in locating their work outdoors. The authors also hope that policy writers, curriculum developers, and even politicians will take note of the content, because outdoor learning experiences can play a significant role in education for young people.

Each of the ten chapters starts with chapter aims, then some theory and a case study, and ends with some guidelines. In the introduction and overview, the authors discuss the broad conception of outdoor learning, its rationale and its many educational benefits. They give three particularly convincing reasons for classroom teachers taking their students outside during class time: the outdoors gives meaning to learning and brings the curricula alive; it helps students understand the environment and related issue of sustainable development; and it encourages physical activity. In the background section, they clarify various concepts related to the outdoors and present some historical examples of outdoor education, but only from USA, UK, Germany and the Nordic Countries. They highlight one tradition of outdoor education that is used to achieve curriculum aims, personal growth and character building, or to develop fitness for war. Another tradition is based on the educational use of the outdoors in environmental education, and is very often offered by conventional field-studies centres. The third rationale or tradition has been skill acquisition in adventurous activities; for instance learning rock climbing or canoeing, activities very often linked to physical education. The authors mention that outdoor education in many English-speaking Western cultures has, in the last 50 years or so, become increasingly focused on adventurous activities conducted in highly controlled environments. These activities often take place “far from school, have a few connections to the school curriculum, and are provided by instructors trained to facilitate these activities using specialized equipment” (p. 4). In contrast, the Nordic concept Udeskole (Danish term) involves regular use of a school’s natural surroundings and cultural settings as extensions of the classroom. The authors continue to use the term outdoor learning to cover all kinds of curricular learning that might take place outside the classroom in the local environment.

Other chapters in this book address subjects such as: cross-curricular learning, education for sustainable development, learning through local landscapes, harnessing student curiosity, enabling students to take responsibilities, building community partnerships, administration and risk management and supervising people outdoors. In the last chapter, the authors put this all together and present a model for developing an action plan to take learning outdoors.

The book is relevant for NaChiLitCul research group’s because of its emphasis on sustainability. The whole book, not only chapter three, Education for sustainable development, is relevant in the ongoing global discussion concerning three questions: what is Education Outside the Classroom; what are the effects of using nature or culture institutions as integrated and regular elements in the learning processes; and is it possible to build up networks of practical research cooperation and knowledge transfer. The book is relevant for Norwegian teachers who teach outside the classroom, or plan for it. It is also relevant in Norwegian Teacher Education as a starting point for discussing outdoor practices in all subjects and topics. In 2020, Norway will introduce a new national curriculum that will establish the core elements in the various subjects, encourage more holistic teaching, require more interdisciplinary activity, focus on the whole human being, continue to stress the five basic skills and integrate three interdisciplinary themes: public health and life mastery; democracy and citizenship; and sustainable development. This book, Learning Outside the Classroom – Theory and Guidelines for Practice, together with The Nature in Culture Matrix, an analytical tool developed by the NaChiLitCul group, can highlight new methodologies for conducting “sustainable development”, and help students, teachers, researchers, children and young adults to reflect on issues linked to nature and culture.

Bjørg Oddrun Hallås, 30.04.2018