Key concepts in Outdoor Education............Detailed information on Outdoor Education





Key concepts employed in outdoor education

outdoors - including wilderness, nature, adventure and recreation philosophy

education - especially experiential education, particularly the work of John Dewey

psychology - especially the humanistic psychology and personal growth movement

outdoor education - philosophy generated by outdoor educators and those studying outdoor education

postmodernism - in education, society, culture, politics, & outdoor education

Related fields

-When studying the philosophy of outdoor education, it is important to note outdoor education has several, related cousins:

outdoor leisure and recreation

therapeutic recreation

adventure therapy

residential camping or summer camps

Philosophy of the Outdoors, Wilderness, Nature, Adventure and Recreation

Basically, ever since humans evolved as a species, they appear to have had both a love and a hate of nature, of the hardship, yet comfort it offers. Hence, perhaps our current dilemmas of depending on and having an affinity with nature, yet in constant struggle with finding a balance (see socio-cultural history of outdoor education).

During the course of evolution, humans also developed a complex psychological and philosophical relationship with nature, which has emerged in many forms indigenously and then during civilizations. Love of nature and struggle with nature through experience comes through in all cultures, whether artistically, religiously, educationally, or therapeutically.

More information about:

Wilderness, Environment, Nature, & Ecopsychology in Outdoor Education

Indigenous knowledge in Outdoor Education

Philosophy of Education, especially Experiential Education

More information about Experiential education philosophy.

Philosophy of Psychology, especially the Human Growth Movement

Most outdoor programs (whether they realize it or not) subscribe to what's known as "third force psychology", also known as the human potential or growth movement. Initially, psychology focused on the psychodynamics of humans (i.e., Freud and all that id, ego, super-ego stuff). That was first force psychology around the turn of the 20th century. Then in the 1930's-1950's there was a philosophical pendulum swing towards taking more notice of behavior rather than dreams and inner psychic urges. This second force psychology was known as behaviorism and the idea that humans are like animals and they can be trained through punishment, reward, and modeling (observer others and getting vicarious punishments and rewards) to perform any behavior.

Then, in the 1960's, the human potential or human growth movement emerged with a philosophical emphasis on the idea that people are inherently capable and valuable and that they can realize their potential through receiving positive regard from others and sharing their thoughts and feelings. From this movement emerged personal and self development philosophies and in the 1980's and 1990's was often combined with alternative therapies generally called "new age" approaches.

By the end of the twentieth century, the different forces of psychology had loosely come together with a new emphasis, roughly emphasizing cognitive (the role of thoughts), social psychology (the role of society), and individual differences (the role of intelligence, personality, and constructs such as coping and resilience).

Outdoor education philosophy generally emphasize third force psychology. Some particular areas of interest are:

Human growth movement philosophy (Maslow, Rogers, et. al)

Group encounter movement (e.g., read about Encounter groups)

Stress, risk, challenge, and coping philosophy (for example Lazarus & Folkman's transtheoretical model of stress, appraisal and coping)

Readiness for change (Prochasta & DiClemente)

Ken Wilber's integral psychology offers a holistic developmental philosophy

Philosophies of outdoor education per se

Several prominent philosophies of outdoor education per se have evolved:

Kurt Hahn's Outward Bound philosophy, based on his diagnosed ills of modern youth and society, and his educational antidotes

Colin Mortlock's adventure paradigm

Simon Priest and Mike Gass' work on facilitation models

Steve Bowles's post-modernist critiques

Philosophies of postmodernism in education, society, culture, and politics

More information on Post-modernism and Outdoor Education.


Brief History of Major Philosophies
-The philosophical origins of outdoor education can be traced back as far as Greek philosophy which sought to understand the nature of self and the nature of society. Indeed, it is often the Greeks to whom is credited the first modern forms of organized participation in adventure for the sake of character growth. Interestingly, for example, Alexander the Great studied with Aristotle and on his first expeditions included a group of scholars as part of his team.

Various other philosophers who engaged in understanding the human psyche, particularly in relation to direct experience and to nature, are also credited with influencing the outdoor education movement. Nature philosophers such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau laid important foundations, particularly in North America, for example. But it is probably the psychological philosopher, William James and educational philosopher, John Dewey whom really gave the modern philosophical clear impetus and whose philosophies can be seen as helping to directly justify the pursuit of outdoor education methodologies.

Direct effects of Greek philosophy, nature philosophers and James and Dewey can be seen in the writings and speeches of founders of the modern outdoor education movement. For example, Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound, was well known to have been significantly influenced by reading Plato's "Republic"; and clearly also draws from John Dewey who, in turn, drew on the work of William James.

To get a quick online introduction to William James, read "The Moral Equivalent of War". This is a social and political philosophical paper in which James argues that there are some positive benefits to training for, and participating in war, and that some "moral equivalent" such as national service be developed. Kurt Hahn later picked up on this in promoting Outward Bound as a moral equivalent of war. Read more about William James.

The best known work by John Dewey, as far as outdoor education philosophy is concerned, is "Experience and Education" (go to a 500 word summary of this book). From the summary you can link to Dewey's classic "My Pedagogic Creed" which states many beliefs which underlie the beliefs held by outdoor educators. --> read further about the philosophy of experiential education.

Axioms in Adventure Education
-Axiomatic issues in adventure education should be examined in more depth, particular during significant stages of a field’s evolution. Adventure education, in its ‘modern’ form, is well over 50 years old. It seems timely at the beginning of the 21st century to reflect upon trends and issues influencing adventure education programming and to consider the underlying, seemingly perennial nature of fundamental questions.

Science talks about axioms, the central hunches or beliefs upon which the whole box and dice rest. Adventure education should also be in the habit of making apparent, and cogitating upon, its axioms. What fundamental assumptions do the theories and practices of adventure education base themselves?

Mapping out the territory of philosophical assumptions that are the architecture of outdoor education is a significant task, and few, if any, could claim to have tackled the task comprehensively and head on. A few names come to mind, as worthy of consideration – Jasper Hunt and Steve Bowles, for example. Such thinkers, however, would probably be the first to argue that we need deeper examination of the fundamental assumptions in order to consider possible futures and ways forward for adventure education. I appreciate the work of Jasper Hunt on ethical issues in the adventure education setting and Steve Bowles’ questioning of the positivistic limitations of the predominantly North American theoretical and philosophical views on adventure programming.

Amongst the potentially axiomatic issues that could be considered for closer philosophical examination in adventure education are the roles, challenge, risk, safety, nature, psychological aspects, the leader, and facilitation in adventure education.

-Whilst studying the philosophical origins and issues in outdoor education today is a useful foundation, I encourage people to formulate their own philosophical views. We must be aware that the philosophical writing in outdoor education is sparse and somewhat impoverished, so it cannot be all that well relied upon. Thus, there is a need for grounded philosophies to be generated by those directly involved with outdoor education. What's more, we must also realise that philosophical shifts have occurred in the conduct of outdoor education and adventure programming in recent decades.

The philosophical watertightness and eloquence of novice-generated philosophies may lack somewhat in academic integrity, but I have found the raw passion of many student's philosophies to be significant in challenging and shaping my own philosophy, and for that I am very grateful. And these personal philosophies tend to guide practice far more strongly than ivory tower philosophies.

Related concepts

Among the terms and their uses are the following: 'Environmental Education' refers to education about the total environment, including population growth, pollution, resource use and misuse, urban and rural planning, and modern technology with its demands upon natural resources. Environmental education is all-encompassing, while outdoor education is seen by some to relate to natural resources and not to include the wide sense of the world environment. Many people, however, think of outdoor education in its broadest sense and prefer the term outdoor/environmental education.

'Conservation Education' is the wise use of natural resources. It is not usually concerned with preservation, recreation, or human relations and as such is narrower than outdoor education. The use of this term has decreased since the 1960s. 'Resident Outdoor School' is the process of taking children to a residential camp during school time for a period of usually 3 to 5 days for the purpose of extending the curriculum through learning in the outdoors. This process was originally called camping education. 'Outdoor Education' means a broad spectrum of outdoor activities participated in during leisure time purely for pleasure or some other intrinsic value. Included are hiking, swimming, boating, winter sports, cycling, and camping. '

Outdoor Pursuits' are generally non-mechanized, outdoor recreation activities done in areas remote from the amenities of telephone, emergency help, and urban comforts. 'Adventure Education' refers to activities into which are purposely built elements perceived by the participants as being dangerous. Adventure activities include such things as rope courses, white water rafting, mountaineering, and rock climbing (under qualified instruction).

'Experiential Education' refers to learning by doing or experience. Many experiential education activities are synonymous with adventure activities and outdoor pursuits; however, experiential education can also mean any form of pragmatic educational experience. 'Environmental Interpretation' is a term usually associated with visitor centers administered by national parks or forest service centers. The term refers to a technique used to help visitors understand the meanings of the phenomena on display, while simmultaneously whetting the curiosity for more information.

'Nature Education' and 'Nature Recreation' are learning or leisure activities related to natural resources. The terms were used from the 1920s to the 1950s and were usually isolated, individual activities using natural resources for equipment and facilities, and involving knowledge of nature.

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