Outdoor Adventure Education Research Paper Starter

Outdoor Adventure Education

(Research Starters)

This article summarizes the past and present of Outdoor Adventure Education (OAE). OAE is examined especially in terms of its origins, historical and theoretical influences, accreditation of the field, program types and styles, research and studies, efficacy of OAE, and the validity of research studies carried out.

Keywords Accreditation programs; Adventure-based model; Association for Experiential Education (AEE); At-risk youth; Challenge by Choice (CbC); Experiential Education; Inviting Optimum Participation (I-OPt); Outdoor Adventure Education (OAE); Outward Bound Program (OB)


Outdoor Adventure Education (OAE) is an experiential method of learning incorporating the use of all senses. It generally takes place through interaction with the natural environment. In outdoor education, the focus is on relationships among people and natural resources. Outdoor adventure education is an area of education that has developed and continues to develop from two basic roots; these two main influences are combining and evolving to form the area of education now called "outdoor adventure education" (OAE). To understand the current place of OAE in colleges and universities, we must examine the following two fundamental areas: 1) outdoor adventure, and 2) experiential education.

The outdoor adventure component of OAE began with the German-born founder of the Outward Bound (OB) program, Kurt Hahn, who lived much of his life in England. Hahn was highly concerned with what he thought were modern civilization's "social diseases" or declines, that he believed were causing individuals within society to lose certain positive attributes that previous, agrarian societies had naturally cultivated. He posited that the industrial revolution had gradually removed the conditions that cultivated those positive traits. Hahn claimed that modern civilization had caused the following general declines, or "social diseases:"

1. A decline in physical fitness due to modern methods of transportation,

  • 2. A decline in initiative or enterprise due to a social tendency towards being a spectator rather than participator,
  • 3. A decline in the individual's memory and imagination because of confusion and restlessness in modern life,
  • 4. A decline in skills and care because traditions of craftsmanship had diminished,
  • 5. A decline in self-discipline from an over-reliance upon ubiquitous stimulants and tranquilizers, and
  • 6. A decline in human compassion because of the hurried lifestyle inherent to a modern lifestyle (Richards, 2007, p 6).

These six declines were the original motivation for starting the outdoor adventure program, Outward Bound and, as can be seen from the ailments that Outward Bound was created to assuage, pedagogical theory was not, in the beginning, a strong factor.

Hahn started the OB program in England, from whence it eventually came to America.

In 1962, the Colorado Outward Bound School opened, and from there other OB Schools were established throughout North America. Soon after the first OB school, several other similar types of schools came into existence: the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) was established in 1965, Project Adventure was established in 1971, and the Wilderness Education Association was established in 1977. By the mid 1970's, over 190 adventure programs existed throughout the United States, with over half of these programs in college and university settings. Programs during this period established themselves as capable of supplying a variety of program needs including therapy, recreation and education (Attarian, 2002, p 3).

Today, Outward Bound courses can be “long wilderness courses, urban education programs, short intense challenge trainings, or even custom courses designed to the needs of the client. Each course is an interpretation of the mission of Outward Bound that suits the needs of the culture, environment and most importantly, the student needs” (www.outward-bound.org).

For example, the New York City Outward Bound School offers school-based programs wherein Outward Bound's adventure education approach is applied to classes and course subjects to address a specific need. Teachers from elementary, middle and secondary schools in urban areas and small cities participate in designing Outward Bound courses. Some of the Outward Bound expeditions integrate multiple disciplines such as math, science, humanities and arts. The courses last four weeks to three months, and vary broadly - one course may examine pond life while another might explore urban renewal (Rugen & Hartl, 1994, p. 20-21). However, Outward Bound works with a broad spectrum of participants- from elementary school students and "at-risk" youth to company managers and senior citizens. This wide spectrum of participants is a likely cause for the increasing popularity of outdoor adventure programs.

In 1975, the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) began, and throughout the 1980's and 1990's adventure programs continued to experience a steady increase. In 2000, the AEE reached a membership of 670 organizations; most of this growth came from new therapeutic programs, programs for women, experience-based training and development programs, and wilderness programs for "at-risk" youth. In 2000, 41 percent of the organizations were experience-based training and development programs, while another 30 percent were programs based in schools and colleges (Attarian, 2002, p 4). The largest “growth in college and university adventure programs occurred during the environmental movement” between 1970 and 1975, when 45 new programs joined the AEE. From 1976-1999, 128 college outdoor adventure education programs became members of the AEE (Attarian, 2002, p 5).

There has also been steady growth in “professional preparation programs for higher education with an emphasis on outdoor leadership and adventure recreation” (p. 6). The Society of Park and Recreation Educators listed 17 colleges and universities with outdoor leadership courses or degrees in 1987; in 2001, this number had grown to 41 programs (Attarian, 2002, p 6). In addition, the American Camping Association (ACA) reported an increase in the number of camps offering adventure activities. In an ACA survey, 75% of camp directors reported that they had added new activities and programs in the previous few years. The most common program trends are ropes and challenge courses, climbing walls, backpacking, mountain biking, and caving (Attarian, 2002, p 7).

Establishing a Pedagogy

However, it is actually a second major influence that injected the idea of experiential education into outdoor adventure; this is the more theoretical and pedagogical part of outdoor adventure education, and is most often traced back to the progressive educational theories of John Dewey. In the late 1930's, John Dewey proposed that subject matter should not be learned in isolation, and that education should begin with student experience and should be contextual (Breunig, 2005, p.108). OAE is an evolving field of education that is yet defining its position in public education; some educators have been contributing research and academic papers in an attempt to establish a theoretical foundation of pedagogy in outdoor adventure education (particularly aligning it with the Deweyan philosophy), but as Breunig points out, there is still a general perception that "experiential education is experience rich but theory poor" (Breunig, 2005, p.107).

Jay Roberts (2005) also posits Dewey's theories as the educational foundation to outdoor adventure, in that the AEE's definition of experiential education shows a relationship between Deweyan constructions of experience and experiential education. Roberts cites the AEE's definition of experiential education as a "philosophy and methodology in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, and clarify values" (Roberts, 2005, p.13). This definition easily converges the two roots from which OAE began, but in practice this has been more difficult.

Breunig also argues that the future of outdoor adventure education may yet solidify into the philosophy of Dewey and his idea that education should involve contextual student experience. Breunig gives the example that, "a course on desert ecology may use the desert as a classroom and bring the texts, notebooks, pens, and students into this newly defined classroom setting" (Breunig, 2005, p 108). She concludes that public education should move towards a model of education that gives outdoor adventure education a larger role, because at present a split exists that needs to be resolved:

Imparting theoretical knowledge is no longer enough. In turn, an isolated experience that is disconnected to a broader theory or set of ideas is also insufficient. There is great potential in combining the best of both. The post-secondary experiential education classroom provides one site for the pursuit of a critical pedagogical praxis that is rich in both theory and practice (Breunig, 2005, p 121).

In the future, OAE will probably become a more accepted method of education, as it continues to make gains into mainstream education. Roberts says that despite historical and modern obstacles against the implementation of experiential approaches in education, these approaches have nevertheless continued to be "a significant if marginalized part of the educational landscape," and he observes that, in recent years, "experiential programming and curricula have expanded significantly"- especially because educators are searching for new ways to help students who "do not experience success in more traditional educational environments" (Roberts, 2005, p.13).

Roots in Psychology

Moote & Wodarski compiled several other theoretical foundations that have been used in the field of outdoor adventure education programs, although these theories are borrowed from psychology and are mostly used as a foundation in developing intervention methods for "at-risk" adolescent programs, and such theories do not provide a general pedagogical foundation for outdoor adventure as a method of learning. However, these psychological theories do at least provide theoretical support to outdoor adventure programs; these theories include cognitive, behavioral, and affective (particularly gestalt) perspectives, and their relation to adventure-based programs (Moote & Wodarski, 1997, p 38).

The cognitive perspective proposes that "thinking shapes behavior," and that emotions are strongly linked to thinking, and so it is thus possible to change a person's feelings by changing a person's...

(The entire section is 4738 words.)