International Arguments for LOtC

Date Posted: 08/07/2015

The Lessons From Near and Far conference took place in London at the start of July, bringing together the world’s leading academics and practitioners from the field of learning outside the classroom. Sarah Holt was there to find out about the latest research and ideas.

On 3rd July the first International Outdoor Learning Conference took place in London, hosted by Plymouth University, Natural England and The University of East London. Subtitled, Lessons from Near and Far, the event attracted delegates and speakers from all over the globe, including Australia, Singapore, Denmark and Japan.

The aim of the event was to bring together the latest research and academic ideas on the benefits of learning outside the classroom in order to form opinions on how work in the field can be used to inform the development of policy in the UK.

New LOtC research from the UK

If the air miles associated with the event is evidence of anything, it’s that the concept of learning outside the classroom is starting to pick up pace.

Just a week before the Lessons From Near and Far conference took place, the results of the huge five-year Learning Away Project were revealed, at a launch event in London. This project demonstrated that residential experiences could be linked to all sorts of positive impacts on students, including attainment.

At this next event, the initial findings of another UK-based study into the benefits of learning outside the classroom were unveiled. For the past three years the Natural Connections Demonstration Project has been working with upwards of 125 schools to gather evidence for the benefits of learning in natural environments.

The official results of the project won’t be released until March 2016, but initial findings suggest that outside learning can be shown to have a positive impact on behaviour, engagement and attainment.  

It also became clear at the conference that the efforts of projects like Learning Away and Natural Connections are being replicated abroad.

LOtC in Singapore

Dr Susanna Ho from the Ministry of Education in Singapore was the first international speaker on the seminar line-up. She described how the city state’s Ministry of Education has a unit dedicated to overseeing the provision of outdoor education.

The ministry’s ‘swiss roll’ model for educational outcomes suggests that outdoor learning contributes to personal awareness, social awareness, appreciation of community and understanding of the global community.

The government is currently building campsites all over the country and developing walking trails around its national parks so that all pupils can experience a continued outdoor education. As part of the PE curriculum, all pupils are required to go on a certain number of residentials every year and these include trips abroad where students take part in community work.

LOtC in Denmark

Karen Barfod from the University of Norre Nissum in Denmark also spoke on how her country is developing LOtC. In Denmark, teachers do not have to seek specific permission every time they want to take their pupils outside. As a result, any lesson can be delivered outside – this approach is known as udeskole. With this philosophy, everywhere is a potential study area, including local graveyards where subjects like maths can be taught by getting pupils to do calculations based on the ages on tombstones.

Local workplaces are also all geared up for school visits in Denmark as part of the country’s ‘open school’ concept. And figures from local business are often invited into schools to deliver talks.  

Conclusions from the conference

Of course, despite the learning outside the classroom snowball gaining more momentum, the conference served to highlight that there’s still a way to go before best practice becomes policy.

“I can’t wait for the day when the walls of classrooms fall down,” said Dr Chris Loynes from Cumbria University. “What we are doing now with this research is providing lifeboats to the future.”

However, the prevailing lesson that can be learnt from Lessons From Near and Far is that pooling resources is a sure fire way of raising awareness of LOtC. Researchers will make greater advances when working across country borders, regardless of differences in national curriculums. And schools will make progress with reaping the benefits of LOtC practice if they work together.

Further evidence for this should be revealed when the final results of the Natural Connections Demonstration Project are unveiled in March 2016.

To find out more about this project visit the Natural Connections blog or to keep up to date on the research of the team from Plymouth University who hosted the conference visit www.plymouth.ac.uk.

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