Outdoor education (OE) takes place within a range of program settings and contexts (e.g., recreational, educational, developmental, or therapeutic). Experiential learning is central to OE and focuses these programs around elements of inquiry, active learning and reflection in the outdoor classroom (Cooper, 2004; Dewey, 1938; Kolb, 1984; Priest & Gass, 2005). The personal, social and environmental benefits of OE have been well documented, however very little attention has been afforded to effective program planning strategies in order to achieve desired OE outcomes. This article describes useful learning-centered program planning strategies in OE. These strategies are transferable to a wide range of alternative physical education and sport coaching programs.
The case for learning-centered program planning in Outdoor Education
Outdoor education programs that focus on 'one-size-fits-all' activity-focused learning experiences and teacher-centered instructional methods are: 1) unlikely to be fully responsive to students' developmental needs and changing circumstances; 2) likely to constrain student creativity and quash their voices and opinions because they are not seen as particularly relevant, valid or informed; and 3) limit holistic learning outcomes. Essentially, students expect more from OE programs than simply being led through a range of activities such as climbing, hiking, camping, paddling, etc. Rather, they expect to experience meaningful connections between participation in outdoor activities and the development of valuable life skills (e.g., critical thinking, self-directed learning, decision-making, communication and team building skills). When students are involved in program planning strategies, they learn to take responsibility for various OE processes and outcomes. This, in turn, fosters a greater sense of community in the classroom and enhances student motivation, thus having a positive effect on future learning (Gilbertson, …