Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Sights and Insights: Vocational Outdoor Students' Learning through and about Reflective Practice in the Workplace

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Sights and Insights: Vocational Outdoor Students' Learning through and about Reflective Practice in the Workplace

Article excerpt


There is both increased and diverse demand for outdoor experiences in the UK where the outdoor sector seems to be in good health and continues to experience growth (Ogilvie, 2013). According to the Institute for Outdoor Learning, the UK market is growing at a steady rate of 3.5% per annum (Outdoor Employers' Group (OEG), 2011). By way of example, in 2011 adventure tourism in England's Lake District was estimated as generating 75[pound sterling]-100 million[pound sterling], and in North Wales over 140 million[pound sterling] (OEG, 2011, p. 7). Moreover, in 2013, Sharpe (2013) estimated that nature-based tourism in Scotland was worth an annual 1.4 billion[pound sterling]. Furthermore, in 2013 the British Mountaineering Council citing the Active People Survey suggested that about 246,000 people aged 16+ went climbing or walking at least once a month in the UK, and that indoor climbing walls were registering over five million visits annually (Gardner, 2013; Sport England, 2013). Similarly, Canoe England (2013) reported that over one million people canoe each year, making it the most popular water sport for the eleventh year running. The above scoping data clearly indicate that outdoor experiences are an important phenomenon in the UK.

Additionally, Skills Active suggests that despite recent economic austerity the outdoor sector has experienced growth above the national average, employment growing by 30% between 2001-2008, with increasing opportunities in "a diverse range of career pathways" (2010, p. 4). The Warwick Institute for Employment Research (2010) suggests the main drivers behind this expansion of opportunity are an increased demand for health-orientated sport and recreation, an ageing population with the time, resources, and aspirations for active retirement, and a broader government policy to increase access and participation in the outdoors.

However, both Skills Active and the European Qualification Framework for Outdoor Animators (EQFOA, 2006) caution that a younger than average working population characterizes this workforce (aged 18-24 years) and that alongside the demand for discipline-specific technical skills there are increasing emphases on intra- and inter-personal skills.

Training and educating the workforce

Conventionally, much of the training that has been provided for the leaders of outdoor activities in the UK has focused on procedural knowledge, or in other words, the technical "how-to" skills of the various disciplines (Martindale & Collins, 2005) and has been achieved through the technical-rational approach, the limitations of which are recognized by Schon (1983). The focus on acquiring and demonstrating these personal technical competencies has been designed to meet various control aspects of the relevant activity but leads to shortcomings elsewhere (Collins & Collins, 2012). This is not to deny the essential importance of having appropriate technical skills to cope with the challenges of the outdoor work context (OEG, 2011), and has been recognized as fundamental to university-based vocational outdoor education elsewhere, for example in Australia by Mann (2003). However, it has also led to competencies being questioned for more sophisticated outdoor jobs (Alison & Telford, 2005), and there are suggestions of a need to reconsider the way in which intra- and inter-personal skills are developed in order to meet the needs of an outdoor jobs market, which calls for increasingly complex critical thinking for professional development, career progression, and mobility (Hickman & Collins, 2014; Hickman & Stokes, 2015).

Stott, Zaitseva, and Cui (2012) and Munge (2009) explore the notion that personal attributes and experience are key characteristics being sought by employers of outdoor graduates, but as Powell (1989) and Weick (1995) argue, experience alone is insufficient to develop applied workplace knowledge and expertise: sense making and meaning must also be brought to that experience. …

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