Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Facilitating Experiences: A Snap Shot of What Is Happening out There

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Facilitating Experiences: A Snap Shot of What Is Happening out There

Article excerpt


A primary goal in experiential education is to facilitate the learning from the activities in a meaningful, empowering and compelling manner. The activities, which are used to guide a reflective session, debrief a particular incident or process a learning activity vary greatly across the profession. In a study of 76 experiential educators in Australia, North America and South East Asia it was found that the activities used to process experiences tended to be more influenced by the learning styles of the facilitators than by the needs or preferences of the individual learners. Drawing upon learning styles theories, this study advocates the need for additional focus upon the broader learning needs of the participants when choosing the reflective activities.


Facilitating groups is a crucial aspect of experiential learning and may include activity selection, program design and reflection or processing of the experience. The literature on facilitation focuses primarily upon what to do, with the dominant message being the use of large group discussion, with little research describing what people are actually doing. This research sought to investigate how people are actually facilitating the processing of the experience across a range of contexts, such as cultural, social, physical and educational. This article will explore some of the literature on facilitation in experiential learning and then describe the research process and results.

Review of literature

As with many terms associated with experiential programs, 'facilitation' may be perceived as being used somewhat indiscriminately, and possibly inconsistently, to cover a range of aspects within an experiential program. Conversely, several terms have been used to label the same thing (Dickson, 2004). At the dictionary level, 'facilitation' means the intent of making things easier or helping move things forward (Crowther, 1995). Heron (1989), when writing on facilitator styles, supports this when saying, "What I mean by a facilitator in this book is a person who has the role of helping participants to learn in an experiential group" (p. 11). What follows is an exploration of the use of the terms: facilitation, processing, reflection and debriefing. This paper draws particularly upon the literature from within the outdoor and adventure learning fields. It is acknowledged that there is a plethora of other literature associated with the broad area of experiential learning, particularly from within adult education. It would impossible within the confines of this paper to adequately address this extensive body of knowledge.

Facilitation, processing, reflection and debriefing: More of the same?

Dewey (cited in Bacon, 1987) sees experiential learning as not just experience but "reflection on experience" (p. 20). The reflection is conducted in order to explore the relationship of the experience, or program of activities, to the normal environment of the participant. There are several terms that are used to refer to the process of reflecting on the experience or the program of activities the most common of these terms are: debriefing, processing and reflection (e.g. Bacon, 1983; Doherty, 1995; Heron, 1999; Horwood, 1989; Kalisch, 1979; Priest & Gass, 1997; Quinsland & Van Ginkel, 1984; Schoel, Prouty & Radcliffe, 1988). Horwood (1989) says that the goal of reflection is for "students to construct meaning out of their experiences ... [and the] discovery of new connections" (p. 5).


Priest and Gass (1997), when defining 'facilitation', say that: "Sometimes referred to by other names, such as processing and debriefing, we can define facilitation as 'those techniques that are used to augment the qualities of the adventure experience based on an accurate assessment of the client's needs'" (p. 174). Four years earlier in an article on adventure therapy the exact same definition was used by Gass (1993) to define 'processing'. …

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