Outdoor Ed

Experiential Learning Theories in Outdoor Education

This post comes after a few lessons (really enjoyable lessons) I had in my year 12 outdoor education class. The lessons were focused on ‘experiential learning theories’ and they were explored through, well, experiential learning. Its what I love most about teaching Outdoor Education – real, outdoor, group, leadership and/or challenging experiences for students to learn through/from.

Quick intro: Experiential learning is “the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as learning through reflection on doing”. In the Outdoor Education curriculum experiential learning is linked as follows:

  • 11ATAR & 12GEN: definition of experiential learning and reasons why it is effective
  • 12ATAR: Kolb’s model of experiential learning, including the four-stage cycle of learning, and characteristics of converger, diverger, assimilator and accommodator learning styles; stages within Joplin’s model of experiential learning

Two ways I ‘explored’ these theories in the classroom included:

  1. Facilitating and debriefing a ‘team initiative’:
    • I found a challenge or task for the class to complete – “Make a two person tent out of nothing but newspaper and masking tape”
    • I frontloaded the challenge by connecting the task to experiential learning theories (previous to this we had discussed/explored what experiential learning is):
      1. I will facilitate task with a focus on Joplins Theory of Experiential Learning
      2. I will debrief task with a focus on Kolbs Theory of Experiential  Learning
    • I facilitated the activity with a focus on Joplins:
      • Focus: Explained to the class that this is team challenge that will require you to be patient and communicate well. The focus is creating a quality product.
      • Action: Gave students materials (newspaper, masking tape, scissors) and rules (location, boundaries, time limit, size, quality).
      • Feedback: Gave students feedback as they went about completing the challenge. Did not give answers or ideas. Did recall prior knowledge and help clarify ideas put forward.
      • Support: Gave students encouragement and praise as the task progressed.
    • I debriefed the activity with a focus on Kolbs:
      • Reflective observation (WHAT) – Was the product successful? Could the product have been better quality? How did you go about completing this task? Were you working together or against each other? What happened when you started to realise you were running low on time?
      • Abstract Conceptualisation (SO WHAT) – Key learning from this? (Plan needed. Clarity of roles needed. Time frames needed.)
      • Active Experimentation (NOW WHAT) – What would you do differently next time?
  2. Recalling and applying previous experiences: 
    • I referred specifically to a day excursion students had recently participated in (Stand Up Paddle Boarding)
    • The excursion occurred the week prior and had already been debriefed on the day hence the focus of this ‘lesson’ was not to debrief the excursion, but to connect the debrief we did after the excursion to Kolbs experiential learning theory.
    • Linking the debrief to Kolbs:
      • Concrete Experience – Participating in the excursion (including some of the excursion planning)
      • Reflective observation (WHAT) – We had a broken paddle & forgotten esky (with our ‘shared’ lunch in it)
      • Abstract Conceptualisation (SO WHAT) – The class summarised ‘key learning’ as follows: Check equipment before use, revise proper use of equipment, have rules/norms to prevent silly behaviour, pack spares, delegate jobs, delegate a leader.
      • Active Experimentation (NOW WHAT) – The class then applied these ‘key lessons’ to their future expedition planning as follows: Check equipment before take on camp (ie. tents, backpacks, trangias), pack spares (ie. tent pegs, buckles, ropes etc), set behaviour norms/rules, delegate jobs and have a leadership schedule
    • In addition to this we also discussed how this ‘learning’ could be transferred to other areas of their lives. For example: The importance of clear roles in sporting teams or workplaces (ie. so its clear who’s responsible for what or people can tend to play the ‘blame game’); and, the importance of having leaders who confidently and appropriately follow up with people that aren’t meetings standards of behaviour or role descriptors (because ‘letting things slide’ can have a negative impact on the team/group)


For more information about these theories:


One thought on “Experiential Learning Theories in Outdoor Education

  1. Pingback: The PE Playbook – February 2016 Edition – drowningintheshallow

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