Who Benefits Most From Experiential Learning

The first and foremost beneficiary of experiential learning is the student. Depending on the learner population, the benefits of experiential learning can increase. Learner groups that have been shown to benefit from experiential learning include:

• The mature learner who has been long removed from the traditional classroom and needs the motivation of contextual learning to get them back into the swing of academia.

• The learner who needs to personally experience the value of a subject in order to be motivated to learn.

• The learner who has trouble learning within the formal classroom, and needs an alternate learning method in order to succeed.

• Any learner who can benefit from having hands-on examples to bolster their traditional learning (Cantor, 1995, p. 80).

Research has also identified certain groups of students that have the most to gain from experiential learning. These groups include “minority students who traditionally have not participated in internships… and students aspiring to enter nontraditional professions and occupational areas” (Cantor, 1995, p. 89). This has often been the approach taken, for example, for encouraging the participation of women in STEM-related majors and careers (WISER, Case Western Reserve). Cantor stresses the importance of marketing experiential opportunities to these groups, “use newsletters, college fairs, posters, college radio stations, college newspapers, and whatever else exists to get the message out” (Cantor, 1995, p. 89).

From the point of view of the university, experiential learning can help institutions stay relevant to students by providing them with the necessary skills to transition into the workforce. Cantor also sees experiential learning as helping the university fulfill the need for “higher education to more closely interface with business to promote community economic development” (1995, p. 79). For institutions concerned with issues of inclusion, experiential learning can promote “the value of diversity… and bring together people of different social, ethnic, and economic classes,” preparing students for entry into the world at large (1995, p. 81).

Experiential learning can also be a boon to departments with few resources, and “the literature highlights the benefits of using experiential learning to embellish lean instructional and budgetary resources” or to “bolster your available resources” (Cantor, 1995, p. 84).

Extract from :
Prepared by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate, for the Vice Provost, Academic, Ryerson University, 2012 http://www.ryerson.ca/lt 

Experiential Learning: An Expanded Definition

The open nature of experiential learning means that it can often be difficult to define what is and is not an experiential activity. There are many activities that have the potential to be experiential, but may not be depending on the execution. As explained by Chapman, McPhee, and Proudman:

“Simple participation in a prescribed set of learning experiences does not make something experiential. The experiential methodology is not linear, cyclical, or even patterned. It is a series of working principles, all of which are equally important or must be present to varying degrees at some time during experiential learning. These principles are required no matter what activity the student is engaged in or where the learning takes place” (1995, p. 243).

To that end, Chapman et al. have provided a list of characteristics that should be present in order to define an activity or method as experiential. These characteristics include:

  1. Mixture of content and process: There must be a balance between the experiential activities and the underlying content or theory.
  2. Absence of excessive judgment: The instructor must create a safe space for students to work through their own process of self-discovery.
  3. Engagement in purposeful endeavors: In experiential learning, the learner is the self-teacher, therefore there must be “meaning for the student in the learning.” The learning activities must be personally relevant to the student.
  4. Encouraging the big picture perspective: Experiential activities must allow the students to make connections between the learning they are doing and the world. Activities should build in students the ability see relationships in complex systems and find a way to work within them.
  5. The role of reflection: Students should be able to reflect on their own learning, bringing “the theory to life” and gaining insight into themselves and their interactions with the world.
  6. Creating emotional investment: Students must be fully immersed in the experience, not merely doing what they feel is required of them. The “process needs to engage the learner to a point where what is being learned and experience strikes a critical, central chord within the learner.”
  7. The re-examination of values: By working within a space that has been made safe for selfexploration, students can begin to analyze and even alter their own values.
  8. The presence of meaningful relationships: One part of getting students to see their learning in the context of the whole world is to start by showing the relationships between “learner to self, learner to teacher, and learner to learning environment.”
  9. Learning outside one’s perceived comfort zones: “Learning is enhanced when students are given the opportunity to operate outside of their own perceived comfort zones.” This doesn’t refer just to physical environment, but also to the social environment. This could include, for instance, “being accountable for one’s actions and owning the consequences” (Chapman, McPhee, & Proudman, 1995, p. 243).

Experiential learning can also be defined by what it is not, or how it differs from conventional academic instruction. In experiential learning, the student manages their own learning, rather than being told what to do and when to do it. The relationship between student and instructor is different, with the instructor passing much of the responsibility on to the student. The context for learning is different—learning may not take place in the classroom, and there may be no textbooks or academic texts to study. Finally, the curriculum itself may not be clearly identified—the student may have to identify the knowledge they require and then acquire it themselves, reflecting on their learning as they go along (Moon, 2004, p.165).

Experiential learning can also be defined by the qualities it imparts on its learners. Successful experiential learners have a willingness to reorder or alter their conception of a topic. They can reason for themselves and are able to successfully explain their position. They have clarity of purpose with tasks they undertake, and the self-management skills necessary to work successfully both alone and in a group. Experiential learners are aware of the “rules” governing their discipline or mode of operation, but are also open-minded, and able to work with people with different views. Finally, experiential learners are in control of their voice—they can identify the role of emotion in their learning, as well as reflect on how they have come to their new knowledge (Moon, 2004, p. 163).

Extract from :
Prepared by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate, for the Vice Provost, Academic, Ryerson University, 2012 http://www.ryerson.ca/lt 

Best Practices in Experiential Learning

To determine the best practices in experiential learning, it is necessary to first define experiential learning. In the words of Lewis and Williams (1994, p.5):

“In its simplest form, experiential learning means learning from experience or learning by doing. Experiential education first immerses learners in an experience and then encourages reflection about the experience to develop new skills, new attitudes, or new ways of thinking.”

The first theories of experiential learning arose in the mid-nineteenth century as attempts to move away from traditional formal education, where teachers simply presented students with abstract concepts, and toward an immersive method of instruction. Students would “learn by doing,” applying knowledge to experience in order to develop skills or new ways of thinking (Lewis & Williams, 1994, p. 6).

Experiential learning is also built upon a foundation of interdisciplinary and constructivist learning. Experiential methodology doesn’t treat each subject as being walled off in its own room, unconnected to any other subjects. Compartmentalized learning doesn’t reflect the real world, while as the experiential classroom works to create an interdisciplinary learning experience that mimics real world learning (Wurdinger, 2005, p. 24). Similarly “experiential learning is aligned with the constructivist theory of learning” in that the “outcomes of the learning process are varied and often unpredictable” and “learners play a critical role in assessing their own learning” (Wurdinger, 2005, p. 69). How one student chooses to solve a problem will be different from another student, and what one student takes away from an experience will be different from the others.

Extract from :
Prepared by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate, for the Vice Provost, Academic, Ryerson University, 2012 http://www.ryerson.ca/lt 

Outdoor-Based Education Camp

An Essential Tool to Promote Leadership Skills

Evelyn Ewe Lin Yeap, Rosmiza Mokhtar, Mohd Anwar Muslimen, Farhaniza Ghazali, and Mohd Ariff Ahmad Tarmizi 

Abstract—This study seeks to examine if a three days two nights Outdoor-based Education Camp (OBEC)module designed with 8 leadership-basedactivities helps in developing undergraduates’ leadership skill through their self-assessments. This study employs a set of questionnaire to examine students’ leadership skills after going through the campin an outdoor-based environment. A total of 43 students from Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN) were involved in this study. Interviews were also conducted to gauge students’ feedbacks how they think the activities have helped them in understanding the qualities of a leader, and also to further triangulate their responses on their LS. Students reported that they are more aware about the importance of being a good leader after attending this experiential outdoor learning camp. Some recommendations and ideas fromOBEC module designed are discussed.

Index Terms—Leadership camp, leadership activities, outdoor based environment, outdoor-based education camp, soft skills.


Leadership skill (LS) is the key to master all other skills. LSentails the ability to lead in various projects. It is essential that students are able to understand the role of a leader and a group member and be able to carry out those roles interchangeably [1]. According to [2], it is important to be a leader who has clarity as a leader with clarity will have greater influence on the followers.

Reference [2] further emphasized that followers will choose to give their attention to the most coherent communicators who knows how to give instructions. Good LSalso comes in a package with other soft skills like teamwork, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, etc. It is an all rounded skill where candidates with good LS are always at the top of most employers’ choice. It is essential to promote the importance of LS among undergraduates through student development activities. Among others, outdoor-based education (OBE) activities are seen to be one of the most famous ways to enhance students’ LS.

A. Outdoor-Based Education

OBE camp module intended to develop undergraduates’ social and personal outdoors adventure, and environmental commitment skills [3], which further enhance their LS. It is defined as a form of outdoor education, which involves participants spending at least a night in outdoor settings [4]. Participants were exposed to a campsite that varies in their infrastructure ranging from basic to a fully equipped centre. The camp might occur in either two types of programs: 1) base camp, and 2) expeditionary. Reference [5] defined OBE as “out-of-doors, contains elements of adventure, and is educational”. The educational aspects of OBE culture increase the growth and development of participants in terms of attitudes, behaviours, personalities, characters and so on, while the aspects of adventure and outdoor heighten participants’ experiences in emerging their self-efficacy and self-esteem. The secluded environment also plays a crucial role in developing students’ LS. The OBE Camp module comprises eight leadership-based activities designed for this study. The camp is set in a remote and less comfortable environment that are intended to raise students’ consciousness about the importance of survival in an almost zero entertainment environment. Participants are restricted from the access of Internet or any sources of entertainment but merely nature than concrete. B. Outdoor Experiential Learning Part of the experiential learning model by [6] is referred. Reference [6] indicated that students learn from a cycle of four processes, that they must participate for learning to occur most completely. The cycle emphasizes learner’s involvements in the learning itself. From the involvement in the activities designed, learners reflectedby voicing out their opinions to the activity moderator on the experiences gained from many positive aspects to seek for understanding (reflective observation). From all the reflections learners made, logical conclusions (abstract conceptualization) are drawn to help them relate the activities and theories learned which would finally lead to the decisions and actions (active experimentation) that establish new experiences (concrete experiences).

For example, when participants are involved in activities conducted in the camp, hands on,reflection will be done by themselves by adding many viewpoints from their prior knowledge. After that, students will draw a conclusion from what they have done with the activities by adding in the skillslearned. Then, it will guide them to make decision that will then be added to their new concrete experience in mind. Ref. [7] further emphasized that adventure education or outdoor education draws on the philosophy of experiential learning where learning through reflection is applied. Their study found that self-awareness is the key characteristic of leadership development. Through OBE, which is set to take participants out of their comfort zone, they tend to be more aware about their own weaknesses and strengths that will help them improve as a person. This reflective process through hands on experiences in the camp, will then contribute to a life changing experiences.


A. Research Design

This is an exploratory study done to gauge students’ responses through self-assessment of their leadership skills after going through the Outdoor-based Education Camp, which utilized eight leadership modules.

B. Participant

A total of 43 UNITEN undergraduates were involved in this study. The students selected for this study had to first pass the interview stage where several questions regarding their achievements in schools were questioned. Students were selected based on their willingness to learn.

C. Procedure

The camp was conducted for three days two nights employing a set of eight leadership modules. On the first day of the program, students selected were first underwent training through workshops on leadership skills conducted by experts. Then, students were participated in the camp by applying what they hadlearned from the workshops. Throughout the camp, the researchers had observed the students’ behaviors. At the end of the camp, students responded to a set of questionnaire, they were then randomly selected to be interviewed based on the observation done. Those seen with the most improvement were selected to be interviewed.

D. Location

The camp was conducted at Mak Lang Nature of Life, JandaBaik, Pahang. Students were required to stay in an outdoor and nature setting in the forest beside the river, out of their comfort zone.

E. Instruments

The questionnaire used was adapted from [8]. Clark set a guideline as follows: 175 and above – well on the way to becoming a leader. 125 to 174 – Getting close to becoming a leader. 124 and below – Not yet ready to becoming leader. While a set of interview questions were constructed among the researchers to gauge students’ feedbacks on the camp and to further triangulate their self-assessment about their LS.


A. Concept of the Camp

The camp was designed to train students both physically and mentally. A number of 20 students were first trained to become student trainers before the camp. A gap was created between the student trainers and participants where the participants were not allowed to be too close with them. Two of the student trainers were assigned role play characters. One of them acted as a strict and stern disciplinary trainer, while the other acted as a soft-spoken and motivational disciplinary trainer. On the other hand, two other student trainers were assigned to be the joyous trainers who were in charge of games and fun. This leads to roller coaster like and fluctuating emotional stages where participants endured mixed emotions. Participants were encouraged to not give up and be persistent for the trainers will then relate the situations with real life experiences. Furthermore, students were not allowed any form of technological devices including hand phones. It was to get them to be fully focused on activities conducted. Other than that, punctuality was one of the most emphasized value in the camp. When one participant reached the place where activity was conducted late, he or she will be punished. At the end of every single activity, participants were asked about what they have learned from the activity conducted. At the end of the camp, they were then asked to do an overall reflection on what they have learned by voicing out their opinions.

B. Eight Leadership-Based Activities

These activities were designed to promote overall leadership skills among students. Activities conducted also promote other soft-skills like teamwork and communication.

C. Paper Snooker Ball

This activity was carried out to instill leadership skills and the ability to work in a team. Furthermore, it was designed to introduce the virtue of patience when working on something. Participants were required to work in a team to finish tasks assigned.

D. The Blind and the Deaf

This activity was conducted to sharpen the participants’ communication skills, by teaching them how to convey information effectively. It was also designed to inculcate the idea of being a good leader, they must first be a good follower. They need to work together in a team to get the blind and the deaf to finish tasks assigned.

E. One Choice Wrecking Ship

The objectives of this activity is to help them discover the true self about each of their teammate. Pushing their patience to the limit to train them how to control their emotion in stressful situations. It is also to enhance their decision making skills where in a ship wrecking situation, they have to decide whom they should save first.

F. Poisonous Candy

This activity was done in a few stages. Participants were required to make instance decision in a limited time. The objectives of this activity is to instill critical thinking skills among the participants. They have to think wisely before any action is taken.

G. Save the Egg

Participants were given limited materials to protect a fragile egg given to each group. They were required to think creatively and critically on how to prevent the eggs from breaking when it was thrown from a certain height by the trainer. The main objective of this activity is to inculcate problem solving skills and teamwork among participants.

H. Survival Challenge

This is a series of tasks stationed at different parts of the camp site where students were required to finish all the tasks at every station in order for them to obtain ingredients and cooking utensils. This challenge was designed to enhance teamwork among participants.

I. River and Jungle

Tracking This is the traditional method of getting students into fully outdoor setting with expedition. Students had to follow through a series of toughness through the path set deep into the jungle. Students were also instructed to walk a long distance against the strong current of the river. It was the most challenging activity. This activity trains students’ patience and endurance in achieving goals.

J. Tallest Tower

This activity required students to build the tallest tower using limited materials given to them. It was a competition among the groups. Whichever team got the tallest and most stable tower will win the challenge.

IV. Results and Discussion

A. Survey

Fig. 2 shows that all students who went through the camp are becoming a leader. 70% of the respondents are becoming a leader. It illustrates that students who reported that they are becoming a leader are having high level of confidence and believing that they are already a leader. 30% of the students are well on the way to becoming a leader. It delineates that they are not yet a leader but they are all gear up to become a leader. Fortunately none are not yet ready to become a leader.

B. Interview

From the interview, overall, students responded that they learned to become a good leader from the activities conducted with the concept of the camp. Below are excerpts from the interview:

1) What have you learned from the activities conducted in the camp?

“I’ve learned how to be flexible in any situation given. We need to have backup plan at least one.” ~Jio “I’ve learned that a person is able to become better, by having a correct mindset and a proper training experience. The Leadership Camp provides me all of that.” ~Afiq “From this camp, I learned how important to trust myself first before I do something and to be a better person, we need to get out from the comfortable zone. Like in this camp, I need to take a role totally different from my character. But by challenging myself, I know that I can do this.” ~Syidi “Being flexible in planning activities has always been one of my weaknesses. This camp became a stepping stone for me to improve myself in that aspect by learning to decide and carry out other activities instantly when things do not follow as planned.” ~Callie “From the camp, I found out my true strengths and weaknesses. I found that I’m not such an observant person and I’m not able to analyze things quickly when the problem is given. But I believe that I’m able to provide creative solutions and I’m good in critical thinking.” ~ShinChan “In the camp basically I have learned a lot of things. The most important is leadership skills. For every activity or module, we need to have a leader in order for us to manage the given task. Without proper leadership skills we might get stranded without achieving the goal.” ~Sarrvin “From the camp, I have learned many things, but the one thing that I have learned most is how to make a decision based on various situations.” ~Aizat

From theanswers for question 1, generally, students responded that they are able to lead a program after participating in the camp. Most importantly, they are conscious and confident that they have learned some important skills in the camp.

2) You said that you are becoming a good leader after joining the camp. In what way are you becoming a good leader?

“I am able to lead others to manage activities. I can now speak in front many people. I am not afraid of having eye contact when talkingin front of many people and I am able to use body language to attract others’ attention when speaking.” ~Jio (Communication skills) “My life before this was very timid, afraid of small challenges and the camp provided the change that I necessarily need. A good leader for me is Loyalty and Respectful to others. Confidence is in the context of what the Camp has provided me.” ~Afiq (Courage and Confidence) “A good leader needs a good organization. For me, I am becoming a good leader because I can handle or know how to deal with my teammates in achieving our goals. Like in this camp, each of us play their roles successfully and make this camp become awesome.” ~Syidi (Teamwork) “For this camp, I have learned how to lead the others. This further teaches me that a leader must always have contingency plans to ensure that a program runs smoothly. I am having that skills now.” ~Callie (Responsibility) “Through the activities and modules with my teammate, I found out how to compliment my strength to make up for their weaknesses and vice versa. Hence I believe that I’m becoming a good leader by working together with my team and trusting their abilities.” ~ShinChan (Teamwork) “After attending the camp, I can see the improvement by being a good leader. I can be specifically said in terms of respect. As a leader we were trained to accept other people view even though it is contradict with your believe.” ~Sarrvin (humbleness and respect). “I am able to distribute tasks accordingly to my colleagues and make sure that it is going according to plan, and by plan means including the backup plan. Even though there’s a lot of activities that need a change of plan, we are able to act accordingly, and that help me to become a great leader.” ~Aizat (planning and management)

From the excerpts stated above, students seem to be confident that they are becoming good leaders through the acquisition of different skills from the camp. Most importantly, they know what they have learned from the camp and they are applying the skills they acquired from the camp.


In conclusion, the study was initiated with the main objective to find ways to help students in acquiring leadership skills. The focus of the OBEC was mainly on leadership skills, communication skills and teamwork. However, students’ discipline and ethic throughout the program were equally important. Furthermore, the other skills like critical thinking and problem solving skills were cultivated indirectly through the program as those are the skills required to participate in the activities. It is hoped that this outdoor-based education camp will contribute to the fulfillment of the national educational philosophy by producing graduates who are balance physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. A module that is most suitable for soft-skills development will be compiled for the use of future program.However, further research needs to be conducted to test the modules more thoroughly. More activities will be added.


The authors would like to first thank God for the success of this study. The authors would also like to thank Universiti Tenaga Nasional for the support in completing this study.


[1] Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia, Development of Soft Skills for Institutions of Higher Learning, Universiti Putra Malaysia, 2006.

[2] T. Dewan and D. P. Myatt, “The qualities of leadership: Direction, communication, and obfuscation,” American Political Science Review, vol. 102, pp. 351-368, 2008.

[3] M. A. M. Taff, A. Aziz, R. N. S. R. Haron, N. M. Rasyid, and M. M. Yasim, “Residential outdoor education and environmental attitudes: An examination in a Malaysian university,” Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 198-216, 2010.

[4] S. B. Hill, “Camping to change the world,” Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 60-68, 2004.

[5] J. Sibthorp and J. Jostad, “The social system in outdoor adventure education programs,” Journal of Experiential Education, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 60-74, 2014.

[6] D. A. Kolb, Experiential Learning: Experience as a Source of Learning and Development, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 1984.

[7] C. E. Draper, C. Lund, and A. J. Flisher, “A retrospective evaluation of a wilderness-based leadership development programme,” South African Journal of Psychology, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 451-464, 2011.

[8] D. Clark. (2004). Concepts of Leadership. [Online]. Available: http://nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leadcon.html

[9] D. Clark. (2012). Design methodologies: Instructional, thinking, agile, system, or x problem? [Online]. Available: http://nwlink.com/~donclark/design/design_models.html

Evelyn Ewe Lin Yeap was born in Taiping, Perak, Malaysia. She graduated with B.Edu. in the teaching english as a second language (TESL), Universiti Putra Malaysia, Selangor, Malaysia, 2007; M.Sc. in the teaching English as a second language (TESL), Universiti Putra Malaysia, Selangor, Malaysia, 2012. She is currently an academician in the Department of Languages and Communication, College of Foundation and General Studies (CFGS), Putrajaya Campus, Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN). She has been in UNITEN since 2008. Yeap was appointed as the head of Unit for Student Development under CFGS. In 2011, she received an Excellence in Student Development Award presented by the Vice Chancellor of Universiti Tenaga Nasional. She has trained students in a number of leadership camps, and she is in the process of compiling the module for outdoor education camp. Miss Yeap devotes her passion in teaching and research. Her areas of study include communication competence, leadership, outdoor education, soft-skills enhancement, public speaking anxiety, teaching materials, and positive student development.

Rosmiza Mokhtar was born in Dengkil, Selangor, Malaysia. She graduated with B.Sc. (Hons) in applied optics, 1995, M.Sc. in applied optics, 1999, and PhD in applied optics, 2008, from University Universiti Putra Malaysia, Selangor, Malaysia. She is currently the deputy dean of Student Affairs and External Relations under College of Foundation and General Studies (CFGS), Putrajaya Campus, Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN). She has 12 years of teaching experiences. She is passionate in nurturing students to adapt and well prepared in term of academic skills. She also prepares a platform for the students to experience the real situation, sharpened their skills in leadership, communications entrepreneurship and time management.
Dr Rosmiza’s areas of study include applied optics, teaching and learning and student development.

Mohd Anwar Muslimen was born in Tampin, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. He obtained his B. Sc. (Hons) in computer science (software engineering) from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Selangor, Malaysia, 2009. He is currently an academician in the Department of Sicence, Mathematics and Computing, College of Foundation and General Studies (CFGS), Putrajaya Campus, Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN). He has trained students in a number of leadership camps mostly in charge in outdoor expedition. Mr Mohd Anwar is passionate in teaching and research. His areas of study include leadership, outdoor education, soft-skills enhancement, system networking, and programming language. Nurshuhaida’s research areas include oral communication strategies, leadership communication, project-based learning, experiential learning and second language acquisition.

Farhaniza Ghazali was born in Jeli, Kelantan, Malaysia. She graduated with B.Sc. mathematics (statistics), University of Malaya (UM), Malaysia, 2007. She is currently an academician in the Department of Science Mathematics and Computing (SMC), College of Foundation and General Studies (CFGS), Putrajaya Campus, Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN). She has been in UNITEN since 2008.
Farhaniza was appointed as the head of Programme for Preparatory Programme For Excellent Students (PPES) under CFGS. In 2011, she received the Promising Academicians Awards in Excellence and Innovation, Teaching and Learning Category presented by the Vice Chancellor of Universiti Tenaga Nasional. She has guided students in a number of community service programmes organized in Malaysia and outside Malaysia. Miss Farhaniza devotes her passion in teaching and research. Her areas of study include communication competence, leadership, outdoor education, soft-skills enhancement, mathematics anxiety, teaching materials, positive student development.

Mohd Ariff Ahmad Tarmizi was born in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia. He graduated with B.Sc. in distributive education, Western Michigan University, US in 1982; M. Edu. audio visual media and M. Edu. Teaching Community College, Western Michigan University, US in 1983. He is currently the dean of College of Foundation and General Studies (CFGS), Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN). He has started his teaching career since 1983.
He is passionate with student development as he had advised students in many community services project internationally. He has a lot of international recognized experiences in his area of area. Mr Ariff’s research areas are mainly focused on teaching and learning and entrepreneur leadership.

See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276408825

Improve Learner Engagement

Outdoor education program significantly improves self-concept

Original research conducted in the United Kingdom focused on the impact of a mediated outdoor education program on secondary students who experienced marginalization and displayed social and emotional difficulties. One goal of this study was to investigate and understand the mechanisms that support the efficacy of outdoor education in relation to personal development and school engagement, especially for marginalized students.

This study compared the impact on 24 students who participated in an organized outdoor education program with a control group of 24 students who did not have this experience. Both groups of students were identified by school staff as experiencing social and emotional difficulties that were negatively influencing their ability to engage fully with peers and teachers and were randomly assigned to the experimental or control condition. The intervention consisted of three stages – trust-building and communication exercises at school, 5 days at an outdoor education center, and 3 days backpacking in the wilderness. The latter two activities involved challenge, perceived risk, the demand for perseverance and cooperation, and use of guided discussion and reflection. Qualitative and quantitative measures were used for data collection. Students in each group were administered the Multi-Dimensional Self-Concept Scale (MSCS) – a standardized assessment tool – before, during, and after program participation. Qualitative measures included semi-structured and open-ended interviews with experimental group participants and their parents. Additional qualitative data were obtained from observational notes and videotapes made throughout the project.

Analysis of MSCS responses indicated a statistically significant difference between experimental and control groups in improvement in self-concept. In interviews of students in the experimental group, all participants reported enhanced trust, group cohesion, emotional regulation and social interactions with peers, school staff, and family members. As noted by the authors in the related discussion, social and emotional difficulties can lead to aggressive and disruptive anti-social behaviors, which then interfere with pro-social development and the attainment of personal wellbeing. The findings of this research study are consistent with other studies focusing on the impact of outdoor education programs. This study adds to the research base by identifying mechanisms leading to the positive findings. Data from this study indicate that just engaging in challenging activities isn’t enough to promote personal growth; actually overcoming the challenge is what is required. Data also highlight the influential role of mediated discourse (guided discussion) in promoting personal growth


White, R., (2012). A Sociocultural investigation of the efficacy of outdoor education to improve learner engagement. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 17(1), 13-23.

outside education

School-based experiential outdoor education – A neglected necessity

Outdoor education improves students’ engagement in and motivation for learning

This study examined the value of school-based outdoor education on youth engagement in learning. Previous research indicates that an emphasis on preparation for standardized testing is replacing experiential outdoor education in many schools around the country and that apathy for school-related learning is high among adolescents. An aim of this study was to determine if experiential outdoor education for middle school-aged students is a valuable use of school time.

Fifty-six middle school students, eight pre-service teaches, and three classroom teachers participated in this study. The school in which they were involved had an emphasis on outdoor education. Data collection included close participant observation and contextual note-taking during a two-day, one-night outdoor education experience. Data collection also involved semi-structured, individual interviews with all participants following the outdoor “camp” experience. During the interviews, students were asked to talk about what made the camp a worthwhile experience for them, what activities were valuable and not valuable, and what could be done to make the camp a more valuable experience. The teachers were asked similar questions. The interview responses along with the observational notes allowed the researchers to evaluate the value of the outdoor experience from the participants’ perspectives.

Results indicated that the students enjoyed learning environmental science concepts in a hands-on, active, and experiential way and that the outdoor component added depth and meaning to their indoor learning activities. These findings are consistent with previous research indicating that experiential involvement in active, in-context, outdoor environmental education is exciting and emotionally engaging and consequently leads to deeper and more effective learning. Forty-four of the student participants (79%) indicated that the outdoor education camp was worthwhile. Additionally, adolescents who had come to view school-based learning as meaningless and disengaging were motivated and actively immersed in this field-based learning experience. Some of the students who were originally fearful and anxious about spending two days and an overnight in a wilderness setting gained confidence and a degree of comfortableness about being immersed in a camp experience. Several students with special needs – who tended to be disengaged and unsuccessful during indoor activities – demonstrated leadership skills during the outdoor experience.

While this study adds support to the value of outdoor education as a means of improving students’ engagement in and motivation for learning, further research is needed to enhance an understanding about how and why it is effective.


James, J.K., Williams, T., (2017). School-based experiential outdoor education – A neglected necessity. Journal of Experiential Education, 40(1), 58-71.

Outdoor play and nature connectedness as potential correlates of internalized mental health symptoms among Canadian adolescents


Engagement with natural environments may provide adolescents with some protection against symptoms of poor mental health

This study explored how outdoor play and perceived importance of nature connectedness related to psychosomatic symptoms in Canadian adolescents. Psychosomatic symptoms are indicators of poor mental health. Earlier studies indicate that spending time outside can potentially reduce the risk of mental health in young people. Previous studies have also shown a positive link between connectedness with nature and mental health. This previous research, however, did not focus on adolescents. This research addresses this gap. Because just being outside doesn’t necessarily mean being connected to nature, this study explored both outdoor time and connectedness to nature in relation to psychosomatic symptoms in adolescents.

Data for this research was based on over 20,000 children (age 11-15) participating in the 2013/2014 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study which involved students from 377 schools in Canada. An outdoor play measure asked students to report how much time they usually spend playing outdoors outside school hours during the week and on weekends. For nature connectedness, students were asked to respond to two questions: (1) “How important is it for you to feel connected to nature?” and (2) “How important is it for you to care for the natural environment?” Their response options ranged from 1 (“not at all important”) to 5 (“very important”). For psychosomatic symptoms, students were asked to indicate how often they experienced the following symptoms in the past six months: feeling low or depressed, irritability or bad temper, feeling nervous, difficulties in getting to sleep, headache, stomach ache, backache, and feeling dizzy.

Students reported playing outdoors outside of school hours for an average of 15 hours per week. Almost 9% (8.9) reported no time playing outdoors. Boys reported more outdoor time than girls. Almost 60% (59.2) of the participating students considered connection to nature “important,” with slight differences noted between boys and girls (57.2% for boys; 61.0% for girls). Approximately 28% of the students reported high levels of psychosomatic symptoms. These symptoms were found to be associated with various personal and environmental factors: perceived family wealth, ethnicity, urban-rural status, school climate, neighborhood social capital, family support, family communication, and friend support. Data analysis showed that outdoor time and connections to nature related to psychosomatic health. Engagement in outdoor play (even 30 minutes per week) was associated with decreased psychological symptoms of girls. Appreciating the importance of feeling connections with nature was associated with decreased psychosomatic symptoms in both boys and girls.

These findings suggest that engagement with natural environments may provide some protection for adolescents against symptoms of poor mental health. This research also highlights the importance of considering gender differences when developing public mental health initiatives related to outdoor environments.


Piccininni, C., Michaelson, V., Janssen, I., Pickett, W., (2018). Outdoor play and nature connectedness as potential correlates of internalized mental health symptoms among Canadian adolescents. Preventive Medicine, 112, 168-175.



Mental health benefits of interactions with nature in children and teenagers: A systematic review


Interactions with nature may positively influence the mental health of children and teenagers

This systematic review of the literature examined evidence of the mental health benefits for children and teenagers interacting with different types of nature.  This research differs from some other studies relating to children and teenagers’ mental health status in that it focuses on external influences (including home and neighborhood environments) versus individual-level factors (such as biological and socio-economic characteristics). A specific objective of the review was to determine how interacting with different types of nature may benefit the mental health of children and teenagers. Such a determination could have long-term implications, as mental health issues developed during childhood may persist into adulthood.

Studies included in this review met the following criteria: (1) the population included children and teenagers 18 years and under, (2) the intervention incorporated an element of nature, (3) the outcome or outcomes included a component of mental health, and (4) the study was based on quantitative versus qualitative data. Additional search parameters included publication dates 1990 to March 1, 2017 and published in English or French. Studies deemed to be of poor quality were eliminated. The remaining 35 papers meeting all the selection criteria were included in this review.

Eleven of the studies were conducted in the USA, 8 in the UK, and 2 in Canada. The 14 remaining studies were conducted in other countries. The studies addressed eight categories of mental health outcomes: emotional well-being, attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity disorder, overall mental health, self-esteem, stress, resilience, depression, and health-related quality of life. Of these, emotional well-being and attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity disorder were studied the most often. Childhood depression was rarely studied, and anxiety was not studied at all. Approximately half of the studies reported statistically significant positive relationships between nature and mental health outcomes; approximately half reported no statistical significance. The studies addressed various forms of interactions with nature, including accessibility, exposure, and engagement. Of these, engagement was the most commonly used interaction to assess the relationship between mental health and nature; however, engagement was the least likely of the three forms of nature interaction to yield positive results. In contrast, exposure was the most likely to yield positive results.

low ropes course Glenhaven Park

The overall findings of this review support the understanding that nature positively influences the mental health of children and teenagers. While additional and more rigorous research is required to confirm these findings and to include a broader population, the evidence of a positive link between nature engagement and mental health is strong enough to support planning and policy initiatives designed to increase children’s and teenager’s access to natural environments.


Tillmann, S., Tobin, D., Avison, W., Gilliland, J., (2018). Mental health benefits of interactions with nature in children and teenagers: A systematic review. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health



Characteristics associated with high and low levels of ecological literacy in a western society


Nature-related childhood experiences are positively related to ecological literacy in adulthood

Ecological literacy includes an understanding of how the Earth’s life-systems work and is fundamental to the health and survival of humans and many other living beings. The aim of this research was to identify “the underlying characteristics associated with ecological literacy or its deficiency, and to highlight any informative patterns.”

Over 1000 South Australian adults completed a survey instrument assessing their levels of ecological literacy. Items on the survey addressed their local and global environmental knowledge and their understanding of how local and global systems interconnect with each other and with human society. The participating adults also responded to survey questions focusing on a range of socio-demographic and lifestyle characteristics as well as perceived contributors to their ecological knowledge and understanding. Researchers used the ecological assessment scores to establish five levels of ecological literacy: extremely low, low, moderate, high, and extremely high. Most of the participants’ scores were in the high and moderate groups. For purposes of this study, just two groups were included: a “high group” (limited to those who scored “extremely high”) and a “low group” (consisting of the combined “low” and “extremely low” groups). The two groups were similar in size: 45 in the high group; 53 in the low group.

In analyzing the data, the researchers compared the high and low scorers in relation to a range of socio-demographic characteristics, including gender, age, education levels, place of growing up, student status, and employment status. They also compared the two groups in relation to psychological and lifestyle characteristics as these related to nature. Findings showed distinct difference between the two groups. Characteristics of the “high group” (i.e., the group with the most ecologically literate individuals) included (a) rating nature as very important in both their childhood and current households, (b) considering spending time outdoors as extremely important to their enjoyment of life, (c) spending at least one to two days per week involved in a natural setting, (d) engaging in pro-environmental volunteer activity, (e) growing a portion of their own food and consuming food grown or produced locally, and (f) being very interested in improving their knowledge and understanding of the natural environment. Other characteristics associated with high ecological literacy included higher levels of education (especially, science- and natural resource-based education); learning through mentors, colleagues and peers; growing up in small communities; and being male.

These findings support previous research indicating that spending time in nature contributes to human health and well-being and may promote pro-environmental behaviors. This research adds to the literature by finding a positive link between time in nature and ecological literacy. While the participants in this study tended to have a professional or personal environmental interest and thus not representative of a more diverse population, the results suggest that promoting greater engagement with natural environments may help individuals and groups become more ecologically literate.


Pitman, S.D., Daniels, C.B., Sutton, P.C., (2018). Characteristics associated with high and low levels of ecological literacy in a western society. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, 25(3), 227-237.



Combining Acceptance and Commitment Therapy with Adventure Therapy to promote psychological wellbeing of children at-risk


The natural environment seemed to play a key role in advancing the goals of a therapeutic program for children with challenging emotional and/or behavioral needs

This study represents a preliminary evaluation of a therapeutic program combining two different approaches: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Adventure Therapy (AT).  ACT uses a cognitive behavioral approach to helping individuals “achieve a valued and meaningful life.” The AT approach is designed to “remedy psychosocial difficulties through one’s engagement with outdoor activities and experiential learning exercises.” The integrated program is referred to as “ACT in the Outdoors.”

Nine children (age 11 -12) from the ACT in the Outdoors program participated in this study. All of the children were identified as having behavioral and emotional difficulties. The program consisted of 8 weekly sessions conducted in outdoor settings, including a beach and a park. The first 7 sessions were one hour in length; the last session was 2 hours in length. Program activities were planned and conducted by a multidisciplinary team of professionals consisting of a registered psychologist with specific ACT training, a specialist in outdoor learning and experiential education, a therapeutic recreation specialist, and a nature pedagogue. The focus of the activities included the six core processes of ACT: acceptance, defusion, contact with the present moment also known as mindfulness, self-as-context, valuing, and committed action. These processes working together are designed to help individuals achieve psychological flexibility, defined as “the ability to be present in the moment, pursue important values and select behavior that is aligned to these values whilst accepting the presence of unpleasant experiences.”

Program evaluation measures included pre and post psychological assessments of participants and post interviews with participants and teachers. Interview responses indicated that changes for participating children from before to after the program included “self-calming through mindfulness, committing to action, enhanced teamwork and ability to trust others, and showing support and respect for others.” Teachers indicated that the children’s ability to calm themselves in situations where they felt angry, frustrated, or anxious was the most prominent impact of the program. Children reported that mindfulness was an important new skill they learned through the program.

The quantitative pre- and post-assessment results showed that five of the nine participants made significant progress in at least one aspect of psychological well-being. All five of these participants attended seven or eight of the program sessions. Children who attended less than seven sessions did not make such changes. Areas of improvement identified through the quantitative assessment included general school self-concept, anxiety and depression, life interference associated with anxiety, mindfulness, and psychological flexibility. In addition to attendance, level of psychological well-being when entering the program also seemed to influence the outcomes for individual children, as the data indicated that children with particularly low levels of psychological well-being at entry tended to experience greater gains from the program than the other children.

The overall results of this study suggest that the integration of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Adventure Therapy may positively impact the psychological well-being and skill development of children with challenging emotional and/or behavioral needs. The natural environment in this integrated model seemed to be a key facilitator in promoting some of the desired results.


Tracey, D., Gray, T., Truong, S., Ward, K., (2018). Combining Acceptance and Commitment Therapy with Adventure Therapy to promote psychological wellbeing of children at-risk. Frontiers in Psychology



Awe in nature heals: Evidence from military veterans, at-risk youth, and college students


Awe is a mechanism — above and beyond other positive emotions — by which nature experience enhances human well-being

Researchers conducted two separate studies to test the idea that nature promotes well-being through awe. Previous research shows that contact with nature can reduce stress and promote well-being. Previous research also documents the power of nature to elicit awe. The current research combines these two lines of inquiry by examining the role of awe in the process of healing through contact with nature.  Awe as experienced in both extraordinary and everyday nature experiences is examined.

Study 1 focused on awe as experienced in the extraordinary activity of white water rafting.  Seventy-two military veterans and 52 youth (middle and high school students) representing a wide range of racial/cultural backgrounds and life experiences participated in either a one-day or a four-day white water rafting trip. All participants were from under-served communities. Prior to their rafting experience, participants completed a well-being assessment.  At the end of each rafting day, they completed a rafting diary. For participants on the one-day trip (77.4% of the sample), this meant completing the diary once; for those on the four-day trip, this meant completing the dairy four times. For each diary entry, participants were asked to report the extent to which they experienced six different positive emotions (awe, gratitude, amusement, pride, contentment, and joy) during the day. Participants were also asked to complete follow-up well-being measures one week after the rafting trips. Results of Study 1 support the research hypothesis: Awe reported during the rafting trip was related to changes in well-being and stress-related symptoms one week later to a greater extent than the other assessed positive emotions (amusement, contentment, gratitude, joy, and pride).

Study 2 extended the findings of Study 1 by examining the link between nature experience, awe, and well-being in the context of people’s everyday lives. Over 100 undergraduate students participated in this study, which also used a diary methodology. Every night, over a period of 14 consecutive days, participants completed a diary survey delivered by e-mail. The diary survey included Likert-type questions focusing on emotions, social experiences, and thoughts participants experienced during the day. The survey also included an open-ended section in which participants were asked to write about an experience of awe they had that day or about the most positive event of the day. Participants also completed well-being assessments before and after the 14-day diary period. Findings indicated that “the more nature experiences people had over the 14-day diary period, the more daily awe they experienced, the greater daily life satisfaction they reported, which in turn was related to greater improvements in longitudinal well-being at follow-up.”  Findings also showed that “awe, above and beyond the effects of other positive emotions, was related with daily life satisfaction.”

These two studies indicate that awe is a mechanism — above and beyond the effects of other positive emotions — by which nature experience enhances human well-being.


Anderson, C. L., Monroy, M., Keltner, D., (2018). Awe in nature heals: Evidence from military veterans, at-risk youth, and college students. Emotion



Outdoor Council

Download the Booklet HERE


The next generation is tomorrow’s workforce. Helping young people to experience and handle risk is part of preparing them for adult life and the world of work. Young people can gain this experience from participating in challenging and exciting outdoor events made possible by organisations prepared to adopt a common sense and proportionate approach that balances benefits and risk.

I support this publication for the encouragement that it gives to everyone to adopt such an approach. Judith Hackitt CBE, Chair, Health and Safety Executive Developing confidence and risk judgement among young people is crucial if we are to structure a society that is not risk averse. We need to accept that uncertainty is inherent in adventure, and this contains the possibility of adverse outcomes.

A young person’s development should not be unduly stifled by the proper need to consider the worst consequence of risk but must be balanced by its likelihood and indeed its benefits. Counter-intuitively, the key to challenging risk aversion among leaders and decision makers, is the application of balanced risk assessment.

It is only by objective analysis that the benefits and opportunities of an activity can be weighed against their potential to go wrong. Indeed I feel that the terminology should be changed to ‘risk/benefit assessment’.

For the most part, as previous generations have learnt by experience, it is rare indeed that a well planned exercise leads to accident. It will instead be most likely to bring a sense of enterprise, fun and accomplishment, so vital for maturity, judgement and well-being, which must nearly always offset the residual and inevitable risk.

Our mantra at RoSPA sums up this approach: We must try to make life as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible. This is why I am delighted to support the work of the OEAP and Tim Gill with Nothing Ventured. We welcome the debate this will promote. Tom Mullarkey OBE, Chief Executive, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

Nature Play SA – Learning Outdoors

Download the Booklet HERE



Children’s lives today are significantly different than they were just 1-2 generations ago. As a general rule, children today have fewer opportunities for outdoor free play or regular contact with nature. Their physical boundaries have shrunk and they experience less autonomy today than they did in the 60’s and 70’s.

A 2011 Planet Ark Study showed that 1 in 10 children today play outside once per week or less.1 Children’s free time has become structured and watched over by adults. Technology dictates their lives and Australian children of all ages are too sedentary and not physically active enough. Only 19% of young people in the 5-17 year age bracket, meet the national daily physical activity guidelines (60mins/day) while only 29% are meeting the sedentary behaviour screen time guidelines (<2hrs/day).2 Children are losing their understanding that nature and opportunity exists in their own backyards and neighborhoods. Richard Louv, called this phenomenon, ‘naturedeficit disorder’.

The long term impact of nature deficit, is the loss of future environmental stewards. Sir David Attenborough said, no one will protect what they don’t care about and no one will care about what they have never experienced.

The current direction in our schools is to focus on educating children to become the innovators of tomorrow. Ensuring children are exposed to curriculum connected to nature will ensure that the highly capable students of today, will be the environmental stewards of tomorrow.

Our aim in Australian schools is to ensure that all young people are supported to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens (MCEETYAA) 2008. We need students who learn through experience, who understand and make sense of the world and their place within it.

John Dewey, a hundred years ago warned of the ‘pedagogical fallacy’ that everything children learn they have to be taught: “Children are people, they grow into tomorrow only as they live today.”


Outdoor Youth Programs

Improving resilience, learning and wellbeing among young people.
A new study by the Outdoor Youth Programs Research Alliance (OYPRA) developed and conducted over nine years has shown camps and outdoor education programs can lead to improved mental health and wellbeing in young people.


The extensive research undertaken by OYPRA will help inform policy and practice, and lead to more strategic investment in Australia’s outdoor programs for learning, healthy living and positive youth development.

Download pamphlet here

Camps lead to better health outcomes Australians who have gone on school camps know firsthand that outdoor learning programs support personal development and learning new skills.

Why are these findings important? The incidence of mental illness in Australia continues to rise amongst young people. Camps and outdoor learning programs offer a solution to strengthen and support the mental health of young Australians as proven in research conducted by OYPRA.


New Seating

We’ve handmade these great new table & seating combinations for our outdoor area, they seat 10 people each and most of them are under the pine trees near the cabins with a couple just outside the pool area. We’re continuously trying to make the camp more comfortable for our valued clients, so now when you come for a camp and there’s a changeover it will be a lot more comfortable. Of course they can be used at any time while you’re at camp as well but we still serve the meals in our air-conditioned/heated Dining Room.


Dining Room Verandah

We’ve improved the entrance to the Dining Room with a decent sized verandah, there’s plenty of room to leave shoes outside if it’s inclement weather and you won’t get wet while doing it. After being in charge of the camp for the last few years we can finally start the improvements that we’ve been wanting to do so in the next year you’ll see lots of changes at the camp.

Glenhaven Park Camps Stockport SA

Learning leadership: Becoming an outdoor leader

First-time outdoor leadership is transformational and involves two major foci: interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships

This research is based on the understanding that the process of becoming a leader may be qualitatively different than being a leader. With this in mind, researchers in Norway explored factors influencing initial leadership experiences of first-time outdoor education (friluftsliv) students. The goal was to gain a better understanding of pedagogical approaches that would support the development of outdoor leadership skills of university students in formal education settings.

Glenhaven Park Camps

Glenhaven Park camps

The research participants were recruited from a friluftsliv program at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. Friluftsliv, a Scandinavian term for cultural practices of being physically active outdoors, is strongly associated with Norwegian national identity, cultural transmission, and an ethic of being close to nature. Five students participated in semi-structured interviews focusing on their first-time leadership experiences that occurred during their study program. Interviewees were asked to think back to their initial awareness of becoming an outdoor leader and to talk about their related experiences. Discussion during the interviews was also based on experiences the interviewees had recorded in learning journals they kept while participating in the friluftsliv program.

The interviewees identified eight major attributes of outdoor leaders, with the most important attributes relating to the responsibilities of relating to people, of exercising authority, the quality of flexibility in leadership style, and the responsibility for judgement and decision making. The other four major attributes were responsibility for planning and

Glenhaven Park Camps

Glenhaven Park Camps

preparation for group activity, having the technical skills required for the activity, maintaining one’s self-confidence in being a leader, and maintaining a leadership identity.

Data also indicated that becoming an outdoor leader involves three transformations: transformation in knowledge of leadership; transformation in interpersonal judgment; and transformation in self-knowledge. These transformations can be complicated by the educational setting. The outdoor educational setting required students to think of themselves as both leader and team member at the same time. This – as highlighted by the authors — is one indication that the educational context influences the experiences of first-time outdoor leadership.  Interviewees expressed the ideas that the process of becoming a leader was enhanced more from the experience of assuming the role of a leader than from leadership knowledge gained through academic study. From their experiences of first-time outdoor leadership, they gained a better understanding of the multiple tasks and responsibilities required by leaders in the outdoor education field. They also recognized that interacting positively with people and creating good relations

Glenhaven Park Camps

Glenhaven Park Archery

within the group was a significant skill for outdoor leaders. In terms of self-knowledge, students gained a new awareness of their motivations for leadership and their beliefs about friluftsliv. Their expressed motivations did not include engaging people in environmental thinking. This contrasts with what the Norwegian friluftsliv leadership literature suggests.

Further research is needed to gain a better understanding of the contexts in which first-time outdoor leadership occurs. The authors offer other implications for pedagogy and suggestions for future research, especially in relation to refining understanding of the nature of the transformations found in this study.


Enoksen, E., Lynch, P., (2017). Learning leadership: Becoming an outdoor leader. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning

Thanks to the Children & Nature Network 3/1/18 www.childrenandnature.org