Origins of experiential learning methodology “outdoor training”

This methodology was born, 37 years ago and it’s based on different, humanist psychology theories such us the constructivism theories as defined by (Fosnot, 1996; Noddings, 1990).

Humanist psychology movements foment Humanistic theories that stress the ultimate good of humans and their potential, creativity, health, hope, meaning, connection, purpose, and ability to reach self-actualization, or for individuals to achieve their full potential (Crain, 2011).

In recent year´s it has been shown that “learning through experience” has a great impact and effectiveness in educational programs and when its effectively developed, it allows us to achieve important changes in human behaviour and relations.

Experiential learning has always been part of the history of education since the times of Greek philosopher Platon, but rationalism and utilitarianism, seem to take over in the last century.

Experiential learning, as a way of educating started in the early 20th century with KURT HAHN  ( June 5, 1886- December 14, 1974) he was the creator and founder of the “Outward Bound” movement or “learning through experience”, his ideas were based fundamentally in Platon´s educational principles. 

His idea of education was based, on a series of concepts such as physical fitness, self-discipline, skills development, imagination, memory, and compassion. With these principles, he founded the Atlantic College, the first United World College,  award-winning of the“Edinburgh’s Award”. 

The “Outward Bound” movement, had its origins in the sea, and the word itself symbolizes the flag that a ship flies when it’s about to leave port.

The first Outward Bound institution, was founded in Aberdovey, Wales, and the goal, was to train future sailors to survive in very harsh sea conditions.

Later and after World War II, it was Captain Freddy Fuller, who began to lead the school founded by Kurt Hahn during the years 1950 and 1960. Later, Freddy Fuller founded in the United States, the first “Outward Bound” school in Colorado.

From here and during the years 1970, many of the professors who worked in Outward Bound Colorado founded their own schools, and developed their own methodologies, reaching what today, we know as “Outdoor training” or “Experiential learning” (Learning through experience), 

Therefore the development of this methodology and its definitions in the course of all these years have taken different paths and ramifications such us OUTWARD BOUND, OUTDOOR TRAINING, EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING, OUTWARD WALLS TRAINING, GAMIFICATION, TEAM  COACHING, TEAM BUILDING.

Experiential learning has evolved with the years with different psychological theories and movements that have undoubtedly enriched the content of experiential learning, some examples of these modern theories are:

  • Brain research (Bruner, Sarvin, Olson), is the process of constructing meaning overall the experiences that we live in our lives and extracting those learnings that allow us, to continue progressing.
  • In active learning, we are aware of objects around us and we interact with other people, ideas or events, thus producing new meanings of things. It’s a constant dialogue with the environment and the people around us. It is based on performance and experimentation, trial and error. Today active learning is being used in most universities and many schools around the world.
  • Constructivism (Fosnot, Poplin) is the process by which we make sense of things, and build new meanings. This way we learn new things and we get rid of old habits and customs that don’t bring us anything anymore.
  • Narrative (Hart, Bateson) we produce our own stories through the experience we accumulate in our lives and then share those experiences. The narrative is also used as a system of metaphors, to look for parallelisms and stories that inspire us and apply to our real life.

Today, this methodology of training and support for education is based also on a platform of more than 200 games and initiatives, extremely effective and proven. Many of them used by NASA and other companies for complex selection or training purposes.

The process of developing this methodology led some of its creators to think and develop games and activities, that could be developed indoor or in the same educational or business institutions. From this moment onwards, the movement “Outward Bound” was not only based on activities in nature or the sea, but it was also made accessible to the vast majority of the population, bringing then,  “experiential learning” methodology from the countryside to the city. Today, many of these activities can be done indoor, in gymnasiums, training and conference rooms, etc.

“Playing brings us closer, to our purest essence, and it is, from here that our, relationships with others, are more effective and heartfelt.  If we played more, we would probably, maybe, be more productive and happier.” Robert Brown.

Article written by Robert Brown.

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