Experiential education, experiential learning and outdoor adventure education

Tapasztalati oktatás

Experiential education is a non-formal learning methodology, the primary aim of which is to develop participants’ social competences through experiences and reflection on them. It provides a complex approach to the physical, emotional and mental processes that take place in participants during a session or training. 

It can be particularly useful for those participants who cannot be successfully addressed in a classroom setting that relies on verbal, memorisation and academic skills – a group that our target group of disadvantaged children and young people tend to fall into. Thanks to experiential education, changes can be expected not only in participants’ attitudes to learning, but also in their self-esteem and sense of initiative. 

Adventure education (outdoor training) is a specific form of experiential learning that uses tools found in nature to provide participants with experiences modeling real-life situations through outdoor activities, physical and problem-solving exercises. In the relative safety of simulated situations in a neutral location, participants have the opportunity to try out and practice new behaviors in a safe environment. During the exercises, simulations and role-plays, we try to take the participant out of his/her comfort zone for a short period of time, thus providing them with a challenge that helps them to learn about themselves, to discover new behaviors and to create long term learning from the experience. 

Experiential and adventure education thus focuses on individual contribution, experience and evaluation of experiences.

Principles

Experiential learning is effective when:

The role and responsibility of the trainer - the leader of the process

Tapasztalati oktatás

Kurt Hahn, the father of Experiential Education, believed in an education that aims to evoke and develop the deepest values of personality and compassion. He believed that to counter the damaging effects of modern life, real, tangible, practical challenges were needed to develop character.

He thus developed his experiential education system to compensate for certain “degradation phenomena“. These are: 

Kurt Hahn’s educational experiential therapy includes the following elements: 

The main aim is to develop self-confidence, self-esteem, leadership skills, teamwork, mutual empathy, service to the community and sensitivity to the environment. The main idea behind the activities: to give people value-shaping experiences. Learning and understanding require experiencing challenges, decision-making, responsible action, skill development, and teamwork. 

Theories related to experiential education

1. The challenge by choice approach

One of the most important principles of experiential education is that participants participate on a voluntary basis and choose the level of challenge in the tasks for themselves. This is important because what causes panic for one person may be entirely below the threshold for another. No two experiences are the same. 

The freedom to choose their own challenges helps participants to reflect on how they experience their problems in other areas of their lives and how realistic the goals they set for themselves are.

Principles

2. Comfort zone model

This model shows how unfamiliar situations, environments and tasks affect us. 

Basically, there are 3 zones for learning:

Comfort zone – In this zone we feel quite safe, at home and comfortable. It includes everyday situations that are often repeated in our daily lives. Our comfort zone increases throughout our lives from childhood onwards, but it may also decrease. As long as we “stay” in this zone, we do not learn from an experiential educational point of view, because in these familiar situations we use familiar strategies, we give well-rehearsed answers.  

Learning zone or discomfort zone – When faced with new challenges, we need to step out of our comfort zone. Itt kevésbé biztonságos vizekre evezünk, lehetőséget teremtünk arra, hogy tanuljunk. This zone is challenging for us, it can be uncomfortable and we experience uncertainty. However, to learn from it, it is important to still be mentally, emotionally, physically and socially safe.

Panic zone – Under certain circumstances, uncertainty and discomfort can turn into fear and panic, and the feeling of discomfort can become so strong that the participant’s escape reflexes are the only ones that work, and the emotional overload makes it impossible to learn. We call this the panic zone.  

The task of the trainer is to try to keep the participants in the learning zone: to move them out of their familiar environment – the comfort zone – but not to allow the activity to cause panic, excessive fear, insurmountable uncertainty in anyone, thus becoming destructive for the person.

3. Kolb learning cycle

The Kolb cycle is one of the methodological cornerstones of teaching through experience or experiential education. For man, experience is a continuous, never-ending reality, and every experience has an impact on the future. 

According to Kolb’s theory of the learning cycle, experiential learning is a process with 4 important elements / steps that are repeated in a certain order.  The 4 elements follow each other and constantly raise the level of knowledge in a continuous cycle. The investigation of the circle – which becomes a spiral because of its repetition – can start at any of the four points. 

 

The 4 elements:

Concrete experience / action – this can be part of everyday life, but also a planned situation

Reflective observation – we observe what has happened to us, look back, see what the experience or action has resulted in

Abstract conceptualization – we draw conclusions from the experience, clarifying the relationship between the actions taken and the effects generated

Active experimentation – we apply the lessons learned, plan to acquire new experience, incorporate existing knowledge

Honey and Mumford adapted the model to form a spiral, which illustrates the continuous progress and development. The action is repeated in different circumstances and the participant can already anticipate the possible consequences of the action. According to this theory, what is important is not what happens to us, but what we do with what happens. The key is to move from the experiential phase to the phase of reflecting on the experience, from there to critical analysis, drawing generalizations, and then using that to plan the next action, thus incorporating the experience.

Sources

LIDDLE M D (2019) Tanítani a taníthatatlant – Élménypedagógiai kézikönyv Budapest: Pressley Ridge Magyarország Alapítvány

MICHL W (2017) Élménypedagógia Szeged: “kéTTé” Magyar Tapasztalati Tanulás Alapítvány

 

Experiential education courses and literature (some in Hungarian only):

 

Books:

  • Több, mint játék – Lohász Cecília, Sőregi Viktória
  • A Játék nem játék! – Nagy Gábor Mápó, Besnyi Szabolcs
  • A játék nem játék 2. – Nagy Gábor Mápó, Besnyi Szabolcs
  • Játék az osztályban! – Urbán Mónika és Besnyi Szabolcs