Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Transfer: Outdoor Adventure Education's Achilles Heel? Changing Participation as a Viable Option

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Transfer: Outdoor Adventure Education's Achilles Heel? Changing Participation as a Viable Option

Article excerpt

Introduction.

  What experience and history teach are this--that people and
  governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on
  principles deduced from it. (Hegel, 1956, p. 6)

A major and persistent challenge for OAE is the extent to which the learning experiences of students effect change beyond the immediate outdoor environment (Leberman & Martin, 2004). This challenge is not restricted to OAE, for as a number of authors have argued, the usefulness of experiences beyond the specific conditions of initial learning is a central and enduring goal of education (Bransford & Schwartz, 1999; Lobato, 2006). Within OAE, transfer has been identified by some authors as "one of the most critical features of adventure programming" (Priest & Gass, 2005, p. 21). In efforts to justify the value of OAE, some researchers and practitioners have argued for the importance of transferring skills/knowledge to other life situations and have advocated various approaches to facilitation that are claimed to enhance learning and transfer (Priest & Gass, 1997; Priest, Gass, & Gillis, 2000; Sugarman, Doherty, Garvey, & Gass, 2000). OAE activities are often structured to develop metaphors which symbolise the 'deeper learning' that has meaning beyond the immediate OAE context.

Whilst recognising and supporting outdoor educators' desire to facilitate learning through the development of skills and new ways of knowing, I am not convinced that the transfer metaphor aids us in this endeavour. Not only is the research literature on the effectiveness of transfer in experimental conditions ambiguous, the assumptions inherent in beliefs surrounding transfer in OAE fail to take into account the situative nature of knowing and acting. This paper builds on a previous article (Brown, 2009) which sought to expand and advance understandings of learning in OAE based in the social and cultural world of participants (Quay, 2003).

Basis for the importance placed on transfer in OAE

Walsh and Golins' (1976) early and influential treatise on the conditions and interactions which led to educative experiences encapsulated by Outward Bound provides an insight into the potential genesis for the rise of transfer in OAE. They considered that gaining mastery in novel problem solving activities assisted the participants to reorganise the meaning and direction of their experience. However, they displayed a marked humility in regards to the long lasting effects that the mastery of unique problems might have beyond the outdoor programme. Whilst acknowledging the mastery can be rewarding and can assist in changing a person's perception of his or her abilities they questioned how long lasting these changes might be.

  There is no patent answer to this. No educative experience can stand
  y itself, no matter how worthwhile. Education is or should be a
  continuous process. A process, such as OUTWARD BOUND, should not be
  singular. There must be a continuum of such experiences throughout a
  person's life. (Walsh & Golins, 1976, p. 15)

Thus while recognising that success can lead to people feeling good about themselves they refrained from suggesting that these experiences have long term (transferable) benefits. In contrast they advocated for ongoing engagement in educative experiences.

It appears that transfer gained specific prominence in OAE through a paper originally published by Michael Gass (1985). This paper has been reprinted in a number of subsequent edited books (Warren, Mitten, & Loeffler, 2008; Warren, Sakofs, & Hunt, 1995) or alternate versions of it have appeared in other texts (Miles & Priest, 1990, 1999). Transfer subsequently, appears as a 'given' in a number of sources within OAE literature. For example, Brackenreg, Luckner, and Pinch (1994) have endorsed processing as an important way to help participants "to extract meaning from activity in order to generalize and transfer the new learning to other settings and situations" (p. …

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