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Symposium hears how outdoor research is flourishing

NW Regional Hub members

[D]elegates from across the north of England with an interest in the outdoors attended a day of discussion organised by the University of Cumbria to showcase research underway focusing on outdoor learning (Thursday 26 April.)

The Outdoor Learning Research and Development Symposium was organised by the university’s Learning Education and Development Research Centre. Outdoor learning is an important theme within the centre which supports research and the development of teachers, outdoor staff and other interested groups.

Among pieces of research presented at the event was work examining the  use of an outdoor classroom, the impact of outdoor residential experiences on year 6 primary school pupils and the benefit of allowing young people to experience risk outside.

The university’s Ambleside campus is also home to the North West Research Hub, part of a network of outdoor learning research centres whose members met in the afternoon. Earlier this month the university co-hosted an event with Defra to promote consultation on the government’s 25-year plan for food, farming and the environment. Now Natural England has asked outdoor research hubs to contribute ideas.

Dr Chris Loynes

“This is an autonomous group of researchers and practitioners who are able to consider how much outdoors learning is contributing to young people, what we think the gaps are and how we reach out to communities in our areas,” Dr Chris Loynes, reader in outdoor education, said. “This will enable us to work even more effectively to help people who currently don’t get an opportunity to spend time outdoors. We hope this will generate a plan which will encourage more people to engage with the environment in which they live and work.”

The meeting considered how children who do enjoy getting involved in the outdoors then subsequently lose contact before regaining an interest in later life – so-called ‘disrupted paths.’ Delegates were asked to map where opportunities exist in the hope of identifying gaps for future development.

“The research we have done about the value of outdoor learning has been listened to but there’s a lot more we can do to make that research more robust and fine grained so we know what works best for groups in different situations,” Dr Loynes said.

The university hopes to be able to create links between research students and outdoor organisations to enable detailed studies to take place and potentially influence the debate about how to make more of the great outdoors.

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