I came across this in the minutes of a strategic research group meeting that I missed:
"Group agreed that there was no meaningful way to delineate between outdoor learning, environmental education and learning in natural environments, and that all were relevant and useful ways of teaching and learning to support wider Education for Sustainable Development."
Prima facie, I can understand anyone being confused by all the terms that swirl about with deliberately loose definitions and which can mean what you want them to mean at the time, but this is an expert group that is supposed to think beyond what things seem to be on the surface.
The first thing to note is that there are two terms here that include "learning" and two which include "education" (and there's also a "teaching". So, as learning, teaching and education are not the same, there's an immediate delineation which renders the minute contentious. With this in mind, would it have been better expressed as:
"... there was no meaningful way to delineate between outdoor learning, environmental learning and learning in natural environments, and that all were relevant and useful ways of ... ."
"... there was no meaningful way to delineate between outdoor education, environmental education and education in natural environments, and that all were relevant and useful ways of ... ."
Well, not really, as to argue this is really only to be pedantic. Whereas we all have a good approximate feel for what "outdoor learning, environmental education and learning in natural environments" must mean, it's exploring these meanings in some depth where the problems begin.
Let's start with outdoor learning and learning in natural environments. The first of these can just mean learning outside which really means learning outside the classroom, hall, studio, workshop or lab. Thus learning some trigonometry, dance, history, or a poem under the shade of a tree are classic examples of this view of outdoor learning. We encourage this for its immediacy, its health-inducing possibilities (assuming clean air) and for its enjoyment and stimulation of well-being. It's also possible to view outdoor learning in terms of learning about the outdoors; that is, about the environment or about nature. This takes us to field studies and practical work of all kinds from young children on a nature walk to PhD studies in ecology. Somewhere in all this sit Forest schools.
The only possible difference that learning in natural environments brings is whatever is conjured up by the word "natural" and I've written a lot about this which I won't repeat here. So, with the exception of outdoor learning in an open-topped concrete tank, there wouldn't seem to be much difference between the two, and the no meaningful way to delineate point (above) would seem to hold.
What, then, about environmental education? Well, I think you have to argue against the no meaningful way to delineate point because it's environmental education. If it were education in the outdoor environment, say, then there could be no delineation (other than the point that "the environment" and "nature" are clearly not the same thing). The adjectival phrase environmental education implies that the education on offer is qualified. It's either about the environment, or in support of it in some fashion (and usually both, one way or another) – to use what seems like very dated terminology. I'd say that neither outdoor learning nor learning in natural environments necessarily imply any of this. Thus, I'd say (and I would, wouldn't I?) [i] that there are meaningful ways to delineate between environmental education on the one hand and outdoor learning and learning in natural environments on the other, and that [ii] it sells environmental education short to imply otherwise.
More tomorrow ...