Foundations And Theory Of Adventure Education Education Essay

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Adventure and wilderness therapy is becoming an increasingly recognized adjunct to medicine, gaining local and international recognition as a valuable tool to a number of populations including youth-at-risk, people with cognitive, behavioral and physical disadvantages, and people living with a serious illness. Adventure Therapy is part of a growing number of organizations that is recognizing the capacity of adventure and wilderness experiences to bring about positive change for people of all abilities. Academic research, as well as experience in outdoor therapy programs, reveals that adventure therapy plays a critical role in improving the lives of clients. This powerful intervention promotes independence, acquisition of life skills, self-esteem, increased social interaction, physical fitness, community leadership, motivation and is a catalyst for positive change.

In defending the current uses of outdoor interventions in adventure therapy, we must first know what adventure therapy is. Definitions of adventure therapy remain debatable, sometimes quite vigorously. Therefore, I will share my own definition of adventure therapy: "Adventure therapy is a theory based adventure experience that promotes positive change for people with behavioral, developmental, emotional and physical challenges. The therapeutic application of adventure education, though relatively young, has gained recognition in utility as manifested by the number of published research and the availability of various programs/ vendors that are using the approach.

This paper will focus on the therapeutic implications of adventure therapy, which is derived from the foundations of adventure education. The first section will give an overview of the history and foundations of adventure therapy found in experiential education and adventure education. The next section will discuss the theoretical perspectives of adventure therapy and highlight examples of interventions and programs in adventure based counseling. The final section will provide a critique of the current situation of adventure therapy and provide possible future directions on research and clinical application.

The documented history of adventure therapy involves largely experiential learning which gained popular expression in Outward Bound Programs started by Kurt Hahn (1960's) (Gills and Ringer, 1999; Bacon, 1983). Kurt Hahn is considered the first adventure educator, due to his work with young sailors in the 1940's an issue well elaborated in this paper. While most existing literature discussing the foundations of adventure education will trace its history back to Hahn and the Outward Bound movement, experiential learning, which is the basic foundation of Outward Bound, finds its roots in the work done by John Dewey (1938). Considered as the "father" of experiential education, Dewey's approach was considered to be a different teaching pedagogy and one that left a lasting imprint in both the fields of education and therapy. The discussion of history and foundations of Adventure Therapy will discuss two major theorists: John Dewey and his role in experiential education and Kurth Hahn and his role in adventure education.

The quote from the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, is a reminder of the driving force behind the formation of the experiential learning cycle: "I hear, I know. I see something, I remember. I do something, I understand." The catch-phrase "learning by doing" best describes the experiential learning cycle. When John Dewey (1938) conceptualized experiential education, he was primarily "interested in enabling students to connect abstract notions to concrete life experiences" (Lund & Tannehill, 2005, p. 156). According to the experiential approach, learning happens more effectively if the learner is optimally involved in the activity. Reflection is the process "that turns experience into experiential education" (Lunned et al, 2005, p. 156). The process of guided reflection and analysis of the experience completes the cycle and propels the learner towards further action for a new experience.

Experiential education theory postulates that active learning is often more valuable for the learner because the participant is directly responsible for and involved in the process. In addition, experiential learning theory is based on the belief that individuals learn when placed outside of their "comfort zones" and into a state of dissonance. Learning is assumed to occur through the necessary changes required to achieve personal equilibrium. Gass (2002) outlines several elements needed for this experiential education process:

"1. The learner is a participant rather than a spectator in learning.

2. The learning activities require personal motivation in the form of energy, involvement, and responsibility.

3. The learning activity is real and meaningful in terms of natural consequences for the learner.

4. Reflection is a critical element in the learning process.

5. Learning must have present as well as future relevance for the learner and the society in which he/she is a member" (p.4).

In experiential classrooms, individuals are placed in "real life" situations, which make it necessary to employ problem solving, or otherwise creative methods of working with the environment or context at hand. Therefore, effective experiential activities involve the participant in situations in which they must take some form of action to successfully cope with their surroundings. Such activities may take the form of outdoor pursuits such as hiking, rock climbing, kayaking or surfing.

Advocates of experiential learning have noted with distraught, not necessarily the surplus of experiential education programs introduced, but the rapid departure of these programs. Gager (1982) explains that it is perhaps "the lack of understanding in some critical areas" (p.31), especially on the part of the educators, that lead to the failure of such programs. Of primary significance is the understanding that experiential learning follows a reversed methodology of traditional classroom instruction. However, it is also "important to recognize that these two teaching strategies are not mutually exclusive" (p. 32). The strength of the learning experience depends on the understanding and complimentary operation of both the traditional and experiential learning strategies.

The simultaneously growing field of adventure education has also caused confusion and misunderstanding of the experiential learning theory. Adventure education has borrowed largely from the conceptual framework of experiential education. However, teachers and students often fail to draw the line with regard to specific program characteristics believing that certain environmental conditions (i.e. provisions for kayaking and climbing) are pre-requisite for experiential education. Furthermore, a naïve understanding of the experiential learning framework often results in "simply including an experiential component" (Gager, 1982, p.33) in the curriculum without detailed consideration of the structures and systems necessary for experiential learning cycle. A comprehensive understanding therefore, of the experiential learning cycle is necessary as the building block for experiential education. As stated above, one must also be able to understand the extent to which experiential education is connected to and divorced from adventure education.

Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound, is to be credited as the first person to formally incorporate experiential education in a wilderness context. In the 1920's, Hahn, a German educator, founded the Salem school in Germany, teaching his students to discover their own strengths and identities through examination of their own personal experiences. After being imprisoned and after being deported from Germany by the Nazis in the late 1930's, he immigrated to England where in1942, he established a program to prepare young British seamen to survive the North Atlantic during World War II. Through this program, he noted that while it appeared that older sailors were able to survive extreme levels of stress and trauma, many of the younger and stronger sailors would die under the same conditions (Schoel, Prouty & Radcliffe 1988). From this observation, Hahn concluded that mental aspects were equally as important as physical fitness in survival situations. Hahn combined his educational philosophies, wilderness and rescue training, and principles for social cooperation into an expanded program designed to help the seamen increase their resilience when experiencing the demands of war and seamanship. Hahn later initialized these same principles in the establishment of the first Outward Bound schools, of which the first U.S. branch opened in the early 1960's. The program spread rapidly and by the 1970's there were numerous agencies using Outward Bound based approaches in various forms and environments (Kimpbell & Bacon 2002).

Adventure education maintains that in the provision of a favorable and intriguing teaching environment, the educator must put emphasis on both the practical as well as theoretical bases of the content. Adventure education incorporates several ideals from other educational approaches. This approach uses the principle of incorporating risk in learning with the aim of improving conditioning. Educators using the adventure education approach are able to target the individual student in terms of mental, emotional, physical and social development (Priest & Gass, 2006).

Adventure education aims at promoting individual and team growth by incorporating planned group based activities. This approach stresses on the importance of teamwork in achieving the learning objectives (Hammersley, 1992). Students are guided towards the acquisition of basic professional and technical skills in an intriguing environment (Priest & Gass, 2006). Students are able to independently observe different associations, as they exist in nature. This allows better comprehension and integration as opposed to using other approaches of learning. The educator is tasked with the role of ensuring that these experiences are framed in such a way that they encourage professional and personal growth in students.

Several education researchers have recommended the incorporation of adventure education in the curriculum. They argue that adventure education provides an intellectually captivating environment for students to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge. This approach is recommended due to its ability to give the student and the educator immediate feedback (Hammersley, 1992). The end result is always determined by the student and self-arrest procedures are utilized by the team to encourage positive behavior. The student is expected to acquire specific knowledge and utilize special decision-making skills to provide the required action. Reflective thinking is applied after the outdoor pursuit to ensure that the team members have all acquired the essential skills.

Researchers recommend a rapid revision of the adventure education program to ensure that the programs are not primarily focusing on outcomes at the expense of the processes, which lead to acquisition of problem solving skills. There is a need to synchronize the formulation of evaluation protocols of the different programs. Baldwin et al. (2004) recommends educators and the schools to apply a theory-program-outcome model where these issues are addressed simultaneously.

Adventure education is a valuable learning approach, which ensures that students learn interpersonal and intrapersonal skills while still incorporating objectives as stipulated in the curriculum. Adventure education ensures that learning takes place in an intriguing environment, which ensures that students remain motivated throughout the lesson. Adventure education should however, be closely monitored to ensure that learners reap its full benefits. This can be achieved by ensuring that educators do not primarily focus on competition at the expense of skill and knowledge acquisition. Evaluation protocols as well as the learning objectives should be laid out similar to other learning approaches.

Roughly, five decades after Kurth Hahn instituted the first Outward Bound in the United States, it has evolved into an international organization reaching as far as Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand, among other countries. Whereas at its early inception, it catered to special group of professionals, the seamen, it has grown to serve a wide variety of special populations including youth at-risk, cancer victims, sexual abused survivors and even people with eating disorders, apart from the general public. It appears that adventure education was able to transcend beyond the educational and enrichment goals; and found its usefulness and applicability in therapeutic practices. This is after all a natural progression since at the initial stage of conception, Kurth Hahn's objective of psychologically preparing the younger sailors is very much akin to therapeutic intervention.

According to Davis-Berman and Berman (1994), the first documented incident of the therapeutic use of the outdoors was in the early 1900's, "when a groups of hospitalized tuberculosis patients were taken out of doors to camp in tents on the hospital grounds as a way to quarantine them" (as cited in DeLucia-Waack, 2004, p.594). The reports revealed significant physical and attitudinal improvements from the patients. While the use of adventure education for therapeutic purposes can be traced back to the nineteenth century, it has gained popularity in formal settings over the last forty years (Gass, 1993). Adventure education is associated with the development of interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships within the group. Students acquire self-esteem as they learn to trust and believe in themselves (Gass, 1993). Adventure education also fosters team-building activities and students are able to bond with their colleagues. Leadership skills are harnessed (Priest & Gass, 2006). Zuckerman (1979) also enumerated a number of psychological constructs associated with adventure education: "self-concept, self-confidence and self-efficacy (perceived levels of abilities), self-actualization and well-being" (as cited in Ewert, 1989, p. 49). With all these testaments providing basis for the therapeutic benefits of adventure activities, adventure therapy evolved becoming the next prolific application to experiential learning following adventure education.

Adventure therapy uses challenging experiences and the natural outdoor environment to improve psychological dysfunctions in the emotional, behavioral and life-effectiveness skills. Adventure therapy is rooted in the tradition of experiential education philosophy, defined as learning by doing, with reflections (Gass 2002). Experiential education, based on the belief that learning is a result of direct experience, includes the premise that persons learn best when they have multiple senses actively involved in learning. By increasing the the intensity of the mental and physical demands of learning, Gass says the "participant engages all sensory systems in a learning and change process. Psychological research on information processing provides some support of this premise, an indication that multi-sensory processing account for a higher level of cognitive activity and increased memory. Applied specifically to the context of AT, the multi-sensory level of the therapeutic experience inherent in adventure activities may account for the high level of change reported by practitioners, thereby suggesting that experiential learning may be more deeply rooted for the client because of this broad sensory experience" (Gass, 2002). Following this statement, it may be expected that the effects of adventure therapy may be more lasting and has a lesser probability for relapse of symptoms.

The problem of juvenile delinquency of youth at -risk is one area of concentration for adventure therapy. These types of organizations include "Becket Academy, Outward Bound, Vision Quest and Wilderness Inquiry" (Ewert, 1989, p. 152). These programs use the framework of adventure education to elicit responsibility and self-esteem regarding one's life and actions. The goal is to create positive behavioral changes among the participants. One of the characteristics of delinquent youths is the thirst for risk and indulgent of physical activities bordering on violent and socially unacceptable actions. The adventure activities that they will encounter in the program provides for the same feelings of risk and highly physical activities but in a more controlled and socially acceptable terms. The most important part of the therapy is the processing of these metaphorical experiences into the real world where they are challenged to bring home the insights from the program. There has been numerous criticisms citing that interventions employing "adventure activities in the wilderness setting as the sole or primary source of intervention have been criticized for not being more useful to individuals after they return home" (Ewert, 1989, pp. 156-157). There is still much to be done therefore, on the research aspect of adventure therapy and the possible combinations with other traditional behavioral modification approaches.

Adventure activities may entice and comfortably find its niche among the youth and younger adults. However, what most service providers may have failed to recognize is that there is also a growing market among the older adults, considering that they too have psychological needs that they want to address. "Organizations such as Outward Bound and the National Outdoor Leadership School (N.O.L.S.) offer courses for adults but their advertising schemes suggest that these programs are designed for young, vibrant individuals" (Ewert, 1989, p.159). Older adults may be hindered in their participation in adventure activities by either internal or external factors. Ewert (1989) enumerates "lack of time, feelings of inadequacy, expense and failure to see the activity as functional" (p. 159) as components of the internal factors. External factors include scheduling, being ridiculed by others, and the unavailability of programs or course offerings for the older adults. These factors can be addressed at two levels: the ability of facilitators and programmers to confront the issues of the older adults and the creation and advertising of programs that caters to the older adults. "The challenge lies in developing realistic programs which make sense to them" (Ewert, 1989, p. 161). The youth may be thrilled by the concept of mountain climbing or kayaking alone. However, older adults may find the activity boring unless they understand the reasons behind the activity.

Persons with disabilities -- physically handicapped, mentally challenged and emotionally ill -- is another special group which have been given opportunities to experience outdoor adventure education through organizations such as "Project Adventure (Massachusetts), Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (Colorado), and S.O.A.R. (Oregon)" (Ewert, 1989, p. 165). Logistical considerations are of primary importance when dealing with these kinds of groups. Undoubtedly, adventure activities are able to provide an environment for growth and enrichment among persons with disabilities. However, the requirements for programmers and facilitators in terms of training and capabilities are higher as these are groups that are more vulnerable. In the case of mentally ill participants, for instance, special medical attention is required as they go through the programs.

Innovations in the outdoor adventure therapy programs are continuously created to address special health and wellness issues. Adventure therapy has been applied for substance abuse patients, trauma victims, and cancer patients. There have also been a number of clinical researches conducted to examine the effects of adventure therapy in particular medical and psychological problems such as in weight loss and obesity, survivors of sexual trauma, women in recovery and group therapy.

As previously stated at the beginning of the paper, the definition of adventure education remains highly debatable. Perhaps the reason is that it has grave implications on the professionalization of adventure therapy and certification of programmers and facilitators in the field. Itin (2001) states that adventure therapy can be defined based on the following:

The level of change - Is the change directed at changing behaviors or on the meta-level issues that contribute to the behavior?

The degree of practitioner: Does the practitioner hold a degree in a specified academic field and is this field considered clinical?

The population worked with - Is the population one traditionally considered in a clinical context?" (p. 1).

All these questions attached to formulating the definition of adventure therapy impacts the type of work that adventure therapy entails in the future. Although adventure therapy has met the necessary criteria for it to be considered a profession, "there exists no single academic entity that represents adventure therapy" (Itin, 2001, p. 82). It appears that in terms of course offerings and curriculum available related to adventure therapy, the field takes on a more inter-disciplinary approach. However, "no true interdisciplinary program exists to promote the development of adventure therapy" (Itin, 2001, p. 82). As stated by Itin (2001), "adventure therapy remains a set of tools or methods used by different professions" (P. 82) rather than an autonomous profession on its own. In terms of certification, some efforts have been made to move forward towards defining the basic competencies and requirements of an adventure education practitioner. However, there has not yet been a universally defined set of requirements as well as certification procedure.

There is a growing trend towards the application of adventure therapy and the interest of individuals who make use of the approach. These are reasons enough to push forth a more structured system to guide practitioners and to ensure that measures are taken properly in addressing vulnerable issues and clients in the practice of adventure therapy. There is also much to learn from comprehensive research that will measure the effect of adventure therapy. This is the most opportune time for a growing field, such as adventure therapy, to properly institute guidelines and requirements where professionals who choose to use the approach become more competent and confident in using the tools and methods that it offers.

Since the objective of any learning institution is to come up with the best method of education system that is effective for each learner, it is the responsibility of the institution to know and state his or her objectives and the ways of achieving them. This brings forward an argument of whether to use experiential or adventure education, which in turn prompts us to answer several queries, which include:

Would you want the learner to use feelings in order to experience change?

Would you want the learner to watch and listen in order to experience change?

Would you want the learner to use creative thinking in problem analysis

Would you like the learner to effect change through the performing several acts.

Existence of Study Preferences

Many people prefer to state their preferences about their preferred method of learning style. Learning style questionnaires, which are known to focus on the learning preferences, contain some psychometric reliability, which implies that if a person's score on one day makes it possible to predict their score on another day, if the existence of preference connected with some consistency and stability is not in dispute. What then would be the argument for the practical applications for the education learning process?

The Learning Style Hypothesis:

There exist claims that learning would become ineffective if the learners produce lower results, and if the learners receive instructions that do not put into account of their learning styles. There are also claims that giving the learner a privileged to select a learning style can allow the learners to achieve far much better results than dictating for them. For Example, if a learner prefers to learn in a visual manner, information should then be presented visually. However, you can find that individuals classified as visual learners benefiting more from verbal learning, and the individual classified as verbal learners benefiting more from visual learning.

In order to come up with a sound judgment about the learning styles hypothesis, whether to use experiential or adventure, a study must satisfy several criteria. Learner needs to be divided into the two groups namely, experiential and adventure learner. Second, assignment of subjects must be done in a random manner to the two learning methods. Third, all subjects must be tested for the two learning methods in order to assess the performance of subject by each of the learning methods. Forth, the results of assessing the difference of performance for the two learning methods of each and every subject assigned are to be done.

The learning style hypothesis can only receive support if the results show a crossover interaction between experiential and adventure learning style. There is a variation since the subject performed best for the experiential group is not performed best by the adventure group. The most important thing to be noted is that a cross over can be obtained even when subject within one learning style group outscore every subject within the other learning group. This creates an evidence of obtaining an evidence for the utility of each learning style assessment even though it is affected by some ability differences.

Moreover, the cross over interaction can aid on the judgment of whether an institution can do better with either experiential learning or adventure learning style.

Method 1

Method 2

Experiential Learning Adventure Learning


Method 1

Method 2


Experiential Learning Adventure Learning

However, there appears to be learning hypothetical results that do not support this learning style hypothesis. This may be found in the cases where the same learning method provides the constant learning performance. These do not provide sufficient evidence for the learning style hypothesis. Below is an illustration of unacceptable results

Method 1


Method 2

Experiential Learning Adventure Learning

Moreover, among the public, the differential abilities and the learning styles are scarcely distinguished, and this is the reason why two concept could be conflated; one learning style might produce optimal results for different people because of the different modes of presentation used only exploits specific perceptual and cognitive strength of different individuals(Kolb, 2005). More so, the ability of specific abilities can also produce a special form of cross over interaction. One can divide subjects among the group with high skills of experience and the other with high skills of adventure learning. The results should then be experiential learners outscores adventure learners on one test, whereas adventure learners outscore experiential learner on the other test. The hypothesis does not clearly indicate that the educators need to provide the learning preference according to their experience in order to enhance the learners' performance. This is illustrated below

Experiential Learners

Adventures Learners



It is therefore necessary to assume that the learning preferences as well as using special skills and abilities in order to determine the best learning style method hypothesis remain in an open challenge.

Future Recommendations

Good course layout design, which is flexible enough, must be developed for the learners. More emphasis should be put on the pedagogical issues rather than the learning styles. Therefore, educators must not at any time ignore the presentation of the materials as well as the content creation. They must be course designers who are well able to create quality content and present the material by use of the best learning style. Therefore, there are various recommendations that should be used in order to determine the learning style theory to be designed for the learner to the extent of the community's benefits. Therefore, the institution should:

Conduct several researches on learning styles theories.

Include the elements of learning that match the relevant learning style

Come up with instruments of measurements which determine the best learning style for learners, and

Make the learning style reflect to the learner rather than the designer. ( Kolb, 2005).