Place-based outdoor education: Practical pointers from our environmental interpretation colleagues

Dr Glyn Thomas1

1The University Of The Sunshine Coast

Place-based outdoor education has been attracting growing interest across the outdoor education profession as an alternative to place-less outdoor programming that fails to consider what affordances specific locations may provide. This enthusiasm for place-based outdoor education is understandable, but there’s a paucity of empirical research demonstrating its more effective in helping students realise environmental learning outcomes. In my view this ‘radical’ approach to outdoor education programming could learn much from the work that our colleagues have been doing in parallel professions for decades. Environmental/heritage interpreters have been communicating and educating visitors to parks for more that 60 years across the world. In this presentation, I will draw on research conducted over the last three years across four different countries. I have collected more than 800 photographs of environmental interpretation signage, analysed and coded the text and images, and used a constant comparison method to identify emerging themes. I used Tilden’s (1957) principles of interpretation and Ham’s (1992) practical guide to interpretation as my theoretical interpretive framework to make sense of the strategies being used to educate park visitors. I will share the place-based wisdom that can be gleaned from the environmental/heritage interpreters who developed the signage used to inform this study. Implications for place-based outdoor education will be discussed.


Ham, S. (1992). Environmental interpretation: A practical guide for people with big ideas and small budgets. Golden, CO: North American Press.

Tilden, F. (1957). Interpreting our Heritage. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.


Glyn has been educating outdoors since 1990. In more recent times, he has started an undergraduate program for HPE and OE students at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

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