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.

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