Progression in outdoor learning – part 2

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

As I noted last week, the respected Institute for Outdoor Learning has drafted a childhood progression in outdoor learning.  This is a "mapping of the range of outdoor learning interventions designed to enable children and young people to form a healthy, developmental and sustainable self-led relationship with the natural environment".  This is to be welcomed and addresses two challenges:

  1. to enable a progression of outdoor learning opportunities
  2. to use a new progression of opportunities to enable a progression of outdoor learning outcomes

This post focuses on the second challenge.

Challenge 2 is to use a new progression of opportunities to enable a progression of outdoor learning outcomes.  This focuses on a ‘progression of outcomes’.  Specifically, the “challenge is to use a new progression of opportunities to enable a progression of outdoor learning outcomes.”  In what follows, the first bullet point is about pedagogy and strategy; the second about delivery (ie pedagogy) and evaluation of progressive outcomes; the third about building insight on ”the role of learning in delivering outcomes” – and on the role of the learner (as an ‘active agent’ in this).  It seems obvious that this differentiation between learning (as an outcome of pedagogy) and the outcomes (from / as a result of learning) needs developing further.

There is a mapping of activities that are deemed appropriate at certain ages and in formal / informal / non-formal settings.  There are two distinctive continua set out on the axes.  The vertical (age-related and incomplete) axis is clearly not meant to set out discrete stages (pre-5, 5 to 9, etc), and yet the developmental outcomes are fully discrete.  There is no risk-taking before 9; and no exploration or memory-making after 9 – unless things below are meant to subsume those below.  There is a question about whether the axis should run the other way: pre-5 at the bottom, etc.  This would be conventional and it would leave open space at the top of the chart rather than the foot.

The horizontal axis is not really a continuum in the same sense as age is.  And it begs the question: formal / non-formal / informal what? Is it learning?  education?  study?  pedagogy? A mixture of these?  Or are they activities?  If so, that seems an unsatisfactory term.  Again, it’s not clear why the axis is at the top.

I thought education folk had abandoned this typology years ago as, for example, good schools will always incorporate the non-formal and informal, there can be quite formal teaching in non-formal settings, and much informal education includes elements of pedagogy.

There is text relating to "things to consider about enabling a progression of outdoor learning experiences", and there is a risk in the way this is set out, of seeing a one-size fit for everyone.  For example, some people (even young ones) will seek out understanding rather than emotion; others may well do both.  I’m tempted to add that there is more to the human – nature relationship than “connection”.  Isn’t the challenge for educators to help learners learn about whatever it is they are interested in – rather than settling for helping them learn what the teacher (or curriculum) is interested in?

Finally, we are presented with "a spectrum of OL opportunities".  It is not a spectrum, however, and is about activities rather than learning.  Inevitably, the distinction between the formal / non-formal / informal is loose, as it is in life.  The "Activities or programmes that tend to be facilitated and that can be evaluated or accredited” are not restricted to the non-formal.  Anything can be evaluated, and a child’s informal experience at the sea-side will have been facilitated by someone.  The non-formal can have a curriculum in the widest meaning of the idea.

Overall, I’d just say that the question all this leaves me with is: learning what?  But this is the question I always seem to end up with whenever I consider a text about outdoor learning, as no on ever seems to say.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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