A Case study into the term Outdoor Learning

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Hammerman, and Hammerman (2001) have simply stated that outdoor education is "education which takes place in the outdoors" (p. 5), yet this term has been widely used in order to describe a variety of experiences taking place in various contexts. The link between outdoor education and the curriculum at schools was also clearly defined by Smith in his definition "Outdoor education means learning "in" and "for" the outdoors. It is a means of curriculum extension and enrichment through outdoor experiences" (Hammerman, 1980, p. 33), yet Richardson(1994) argued that

"It is no longer sufficient to expose as many young people as possible to an outdoor adventure experience. The need is to engage in the process of learning through the outdoors and to extend the philosophy of adventure based experiential learning into the classroom, community and the inner city (p.6)"

Sharp (1895-1963) is also prominent in the development of outdoor education and his first doctoral thesis in 1930 was about this topic. Fitzpatrick ( 1968) studied various outdoor education programs in order to come up with a philosophy regarding outdoor education as well as to identify specific goals which can be attained when participating in such programs. Fitzpatrick (1968) found that outdoor education can help achieve greater appreciation, values responsibility and a positive attitude towards the environment. Outdoor education was also identified as a teaching method which makes use of natural resources, people and the community beyond the classroom and acts to motivate learning as well as broadens and enriches the curriculum (Fitzpatrick, 1968).

Ford (1981) had a similar perspective on outdoor education and she saw it as a holistic method of teaching and learning in the outdoor environment which combines skills, knowledge and the admiration of the natural resources. She suggested to use outdoor education in order to develop, "skills for lifelong learning, for coping and contributing to social change, and for the continuous growth of the individual" (p.49), and also "appreciating natural resources and for developing a sense of stewardship for the land" (p.18)

Priest (1986), uses a metaphorical model of a tree in order to describe outdoor education which encompass both adventure as well as environment education thus outdoor education involves both intrapersonal as well as interpersonal relationships as well as eco-systemic and ekistic relationships.

"Both approaches, properly integrated, achieve objectives for all four relationships, and, in the process, create a truly functional outdoor education experience." Priest (1986), (p.13)

According to Priest (1986), outdoor education involves six main points:

"Is a method for learning

Is experiential

Takes place primarily in the outdoors

Requires use of all senses and domains

Is based upon interdisciplinary curriculum matter

Is a matter of relationships involving people and natural resources " (p.13)

Outdoor education can be seen from the perspective of being a multisensory experience which makes learning more authentic due to the direct encounter with the environment. The following definition was constructed by the research group at the centre for Environment and Education, at Linkoping University:

"Outdoor education is an approach that aims to provide learning in interplay between experience and reflection based on concrete experience in authentic situations.

Outdoor learning is also an interdisciplinary research and education field, which involves, among other things:

The learning space being moved out into life in society, the natural and cultural environment,

The interplay between sensory experience and book-learning being emphasised,

The importance of place being underlined.

(Centre for Environment and Outdoor Education, 2004)

Adventure Education:

Outdoor and adventure education are surely interrelated and many authors have outlined the links between the two definitions (Martin,2001; Higgins & Loynes, 1996; MacArthur, 1975; Ewer, 1980). Adventure education refers to programs which involve challenge and also an element of risk. The outcomes of such programmes are often uncertain (Ewert, 1980). Ewert (1980), identified adventure education as different from outdoor education as it "contains elements of real or apparent danger, in which the outcome while uncertain can be influenced by the actions of participants" (p.2). In both fields, the learner has to face demanding situations and risk factors (MacArthur 1975). The involvement of risk was also pointed out by Miles & Priest (1990). Priest (1990b), also argued that "Challenge", "High Adventure", and "New Growth Experiences", are the core of adventure education hence the acronym "CHANGE" was created.

The educational process in adventure education is student centred, yet both the roles of the instructor as well as the rest of the group members are instrumental for the learner. These help provide the learner with the necessary feedback, support and approval throughout the whole experience (MacArthur, 1975). The importance of the instructor's and the group members' participation is also emphasised by Kalisch (1979), as it helps the student to achieve his maximum potential in personal growth. Belbin (1981), and Tuckman & Jenson (1977), came up with a model consisting of five stages; forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. Such model describes the different stages students undergo through the process of adventure education in order to develop group dynamics.

Hopkins (1985), proposed the following features for adventure education which continue to highlight the interrelation between outdoor and adventure education:

Emphasis of experiential learning which is highly significant, including analysis and authentic experiences

Consider the physical, cultural and social needs of the students so as to create a tailor made programme as well as appoint a suitable instructor to lead the group

Concentrate on fully developing the student's personal potential

Emphatic climate, tolerance sensitivity, leadership and responsibility. The culture of the centre has a profound impact on student outcomes;

the dominance of the group process including social skills, team work and effective communication;

Environmental awareness; sensory, aesthetic and creative appreciation;

Reproduce one's learning through adventure education on one's personal life.

Environment Education:

The term 'environment education', "in its broadest sense, encompasses teaching about the quality and quantity of all aspects of the environment" (Ford, 1981, p.2 in Martin, 2001). Ford (1981) said that environment education is an expanded term of outdoor education, where the students require different stages through which they can become familiar with the outdoor setting. She proposed a model of learning with natural environment as its foundation. This model consists of seven stages being:

Art forms, visual appreciation of the environment;


Sensory awareness;

Ecological principles;

Problem solving processes;

Decision making procedures;

Ekistics, a philosophy of survival.

(Ford, 1981)

During the first three stages, students develop a sense of ease, encourage interest and start to feel confident in the 'new' environment. The last four stages, are set to lead the student to develop fusion of human, cultural and natural components, hence guiding them to view the world in a more holistic manner. This view was supported by Hopkins & Putnam, (1990b), as they proposed that the environment provides the context for challenges which ultimately lead the students to experience personal learning and growth through adventure education and also gaining knowledge about the environment thus environment education.

Stapp (1969), defined environment education as "aimed at producing a citizenry that is knowledgeable concerning the bio-physical environment and its associated problems, aware of how to help solve these problems, and motivated to work toward their solution", (Stapp 1969, p.30 in Gilbertson et al, 2006). Such definition was expanded by Roth (1969), "Environment education is the education about ecological concepts and their effects on human kind. Its purpose is to increase an understanding and appreciation toward the interaction of man and the natural environment", (Roth 1969, p.195 in Gilbertson et all, 2006).

Gilbertson et al (2006), came up with a set of goals for environment education and what it aims to achieve:

Awareness of the ecology.

Awareness regarding environmental issues.

The skill to study and assess environmental issues.

The ability to possess problem solving and thinking skills necessary to become mentally literate citizens.

(Gilbertson et al, 2006)

The boundaries of the terms outdoor, adventure and environment education are still unclear, especially since they are used interchangeably in literature and added to term 'education' or 'programme', (Priest, 1988a) Outdoor and adventure education are seen as similar to each other, yet environment education provides the context for both fields. (Ewert, 1996). This was also supported by Hopkins & Putnam (1993) who proposed environment education as the foundation philosophy of outdoor and adventure programmes.

Supporting Theories:

Theories are the basis on which one's teaching is founded upon yet it is different from personal beliefs.


John Dewy, (1938), proposed that teachers should build on pre existing knowledge and experience of the student in order to create new learning. The concept of the half empty or half full glass, is the main focus of constructivism, therefore the teacher's role is to fill the students' glass. However, the students' glass is already filled with prior knowledge, skills and experience. Hence, the teacher has to expose students to challenges, concept learning and engage students in direct experience. The learning process should be structured and students centred.

The next theory explores developmental stages of environmental education. This is divided in two parts; the first being what the student experiences and the second part being the stages of fostering environmental literacy within students.

The first part is made up of four stages:


Physical skills acquisition

Relationship with the environment and its inhabitants


Becoming literate means understanding a concept and having the ability to apply it to relevant situations. The completion of the stages depend on the experience of the student, therefore it is more time dependent rather than physical or cognitive development. (Gilbertson et al, 2006)

Sensory awareness of the environment to become comfortable.

Make oneself comfortable in the new environment and perfect one's skills. This stage may take a considerable amount of time to master.

Relationships with members of the group and with nature and the environment. This stage is more advanced yet the previous staged are vital in arriving to this stage.

Becoming one with nature is the highest stage of environmental literacy. It is a very personal stage and as a teacher, one can only control the students to get through the previous three stages. From that point on, the students must work towards sustaining their literacy.

The second part of the developmental stages is the application phase of what the students have learned. The teacher's role is now to cultivate environmental learning within the students. The following are the stages which lead to environmental literacy:

Sensory awareness.

Skills developments and training.

Ecological relationships.

Environmental issues awareness and action

(Gilbertson et al, 2006)

Through sensory awareness, students start an orientation process, leading to the development and teaching of new skills. As students start to develop relationships, they fell more at ease and start to form links and apply what they have learnt to real- life situations. Environmental issues and awareness cannot be taught yet it can be fostered through awareness of certain issues that may have a negative impact on the environment and the students will in turn, have developed the ability to take action in order to prevent , reduce or deal with the impact of certain matters. Hence, the basis of this stage is that students can recognize the relationship between human beings and the environment.

Theory of Personal meaning:

This theory was founded by John Dewey (1938), and later refined by David Ausubel (1968) and emphasises that learning occurs through making meaning of what is being taught. Meaning is said to derive from:

Symbolic representation




Outdoor education as a teaching Method:

The following social psychology theories provide the evidence and support to ensure that using outdoor education as a teaching method is effective.

Social psychology theories:

Social psychology is "the study of the effects of social and cognitive processes on the way individuals perceive, influence and relate to others" (Smith and Madde, 2000). The following theories help the teachers to engage in more effective teaching methods as they understand why people behave in a certain way in particular situations.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs:

Maslow, (1970) states that unless the basic needs are met, one cannot aim for higher needs. This theory is very relevant in teaching as unless the basic components are taught, the teacher cannot move on to teach more complex issues. Maslow's hierarchy is displayed as a pyramid, where the lowest levels are made up of basic needs which become more psychological and social as they move further up. The same applies to teaching, which should be structured and sequential; starting from the basics and moving on to build upon them.

Theory of optimal arousal:

Duffy (1957), came up with this theory which states that a certain amount of arousal can be a motivator toward change; that is, learning occurs.

One must be careful when applying such theory as too little arousal will have a passive effect, while too much may have a detrimental effect. This is why there are different optimal levels of arousal according to what is being learned. For example, lower arousal is needed for highly cognitive tasks while higher arousal is required for tasks involving persistence and determination such as outdoor pursuits. The aim of the teacher is to achieve the optimum level of arousal during the teaching process so as to put the students in the learning zone. Students will in turn focus on the task presented and experience a desire to succeed since they are immersed in the learning environment, and clear objectives have been set. Having students as the centre of the learning process, makes them feel more in control of their learning and motivated to engage. Hence, the main focus of the teacher is to get students to focus on the particular task by helping each student reach his optimal level of arousal.

Theory of competence- Effectence:

This theory is better known as the Flow theory which proposes that one will undergo tasks which involve challenges and a sense of satisfaction upon completion, deriving from competence and the effect of being "in the zone/flow" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975). 'Flow' is defined as having people so deeply immersed in the task given that nothing else seems to matter. Csikszentmihalyi, 1975 continues, "The experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it". The tasks presented may vary, yet the sense of enjoyment derived from paying attention is similar.

In order for "Flow", to occur, the following factors are necessary:

An adequate challenge which requires skill.

Clear objectives

Constructive feedback

Absorption in task through concentration

Sense of control

Loss of self- consciousness

Transformation of time

Csikszentmihalyi et al (1997), proposed the following steps to be followed by the teacher in order to foster the ideal learning atmosphere:

Cultivate a passion towards the subject.

Intrinsic satisfaction of learning as the main focus.

Read the dynamic needs and state of the students.

Theory of self efficacy:

Bandura, (1985) defines "self-efficacy" as, "the belief in one's capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations" (1995,2). Self efficacy continues to evolve as one learns new skills, experiences and gains more understanding. (Bandura, 1992). According to Bandura (1992), there are four major factors which influence self efficacy being:

Successful experiences, "the most effective way of developing a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences" (Bandura, 1994).

Social modelling,; as Bandura said, "seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises observers' beliefs that they too possess the capabilities master comparable activities to succeed", (1994).

Social persuasion; verbal encouragement help students move away from self doubt and towards self- confidence.

Psychological responses; Bandura (1994), pointed out that, "it is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important but rather how they are perceived and interpreted". Teacher can control the first three stages, yet the latter depends on the students' mood and ability to control and deal with distress and demanding tasks.

Attribution Theory:

The attribution theory refers to how people explain the occurrence of events. Heider (1958), was the first to propose this theory yet a theoretical framework was later developed by others, (Jones et al, 1972; Weiner, 1974, 1986). An attribution involves three stages being:

Observe behaviour.

Believe that such behaviour was performed intentionally.

Determine whether the behaviour is attributed to a situation (force), or not.

There are two types of attribution; internal and external. Internal implies that the student was directly responsible for the outcome while external suggests that the outcome was a result of outside factors.

Weiner (1974), was more concerned on achievement in his attribution theory. He proposed that achievement can be attributed to effort, ability, degree of task difficulty or luck. The attribution is put through good practise if the teacher focuses on encouraging the strengths of the students. This will ultimately make students feel more motivated. Hence, the language used by the teacher and others can have a significant impact on one's self-perception.

As a teacher it is vital to have an understanding of the different methods through which students learn and how the learning process varies with different students. Teachers who possess an insight of various learning theories can apply them to their teaching method thus enhancing the level and quantity of the students learning.

Experiential education is often referred to as a holistic process (Hopkins & Putnam, 1993; Boud, Cohen & Walker, 1993; Cooper, 1994) and it is frequently related with outdoor and adventure education. (Hopkins & Putnam, 1993).

John Dewey (1938), who is often referred to as the father of experiential education, is instrumental in the development of education theories. Dewey (1916), proposed a link between education and meaningful experience yet "the belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are educative (Dewey, 1938, p.25). He believed that teachers should give students the opportunity to construct their own learning yet the experience should be relevant to what is being learnt. Dewey (1938), developed the experiential instructional model in 'Experience and Education'. This model comprises of three stages being: observation, knowledge and judgement.

Like Dewey, Duckworth (1987), believes that as a teacher, one is responsible to provide the students with appropriate situations in which they can develop, "wonderful ideas are built on other wonderful ideas", (Duckworth, 1987). She defines teaching as a way of helping others to learn and what can be done to help them do so. With regards to her views, she states, "As a student of Piaget, I was convinced that people must construct their own knowledge and must assimilate new experiences in ways that make sense to them. I knew that, more often than not, simply telling students what we want them to know leaves them cold", (Duckworth, 2006, p.173)

Lewin (1935), also proposed the involvement of the students in the learning process by setting their own realistic goals which require an adequate amount of challenge to test their abilities. By engaging in such process, students, "will be more active learners, be more invested in the process, and less likely to scapegoat." (Lewin, 1939, p.271).

The Lewinian Experiential Learning model (Kolb, 1984) highlights the importance of experience as part of the learning process. The following definition encapsulates the main features of the experiential learning process, "Learning is a process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience". (Kolb,1984, p.38). The cycle is made up of four stages being:

Concrete experience.

Reflective observation.

Formation of abstract concepts and generalisations.

Active experimentation; testing implications of concepts in new situations.

Stages one and three, focus on one's absorption of the experience while stages two and four show how we deal with experience. (Kolb, 1984). The inclusion of adequate opportunities for such stages to occur in one's learning process, helps the learners to be fully engaged in their own learning. Kolb (1984), also identifies four learning styles; diverging, assimilating, converging and accommodating.

Each style blends and highlights the various phases of the learning cycle. Kolb (1984) said that each learner makes use of one of the styles as a means of learning. Having teachers follow such experiential learning cycle, ensures that the students learning style is catered for.

Adventure Wave Model:

The adventure wave model of experiential education includes three vital elements being; briefing, doing and debriefing. "The adventure wave implies defining goals and objectives, then developing a progression of activities and a pattern for sequencing or ordering activities" (Rawson, 1991, p.21) the debriefing session is critical as it is what makes the learning experience meaningful to the students. (Schoel et al. 1988)

Reflection is instrumental for the students' personal growth (Boud et al., Boud and Walker, 1990,1991; Dewey, 1938) Dewey (1916), defined reflection as "the intentional endeavour to discover specific connections between something which we do and the consequences which result, so the two become continuous". (P.51)

Experiential learning is a holistic process through which personal growth is achieved. Such learning process is used widely in outdoor, adventure and environmental education. The experience, reflection and transfer of learning are all vital components of experiential learning.