INDEX to - resources for dynamic learning
 How to find your way around

Facilitation and Reviewing in Outdoor Education

By Roger Greenaway

Print Friendly and PDF

'Facilitation and Reviewing in Outdoor Education' outlines some of the main areas in which facilitation skills can be of value in outdoor education and raises some key issues along the way – such as the implications for facilitation style if you want to place learners' experiences at the heart of the learning process.

This page is a chapter from The Russell House Outdoor Education Companion (2004) Publication details

Other 'outdoor' articles by Roger Greenaway include:

In Search of Respectable Adventure
Reviewing Adventure Activities
Reviewing with Ropes
Is it always necessary to review...?
A View into the Future: The Value of Other Ways of Learning and Development in Other Ways of Learning 
Stimulation vs Simulation: Outdoor Stories and Indoor Stories

'Teaching, in my estimation, is a vastly overrated function..... I see the facilitation of learning as the aim of education' (Rogers, 1969).

Going outdoors opens new horizons. It can be a journey into an unfamiliar world - a world of differences where norms and routines are left behind and where people dress, feel, think and behave differently. Going outdoors can also be a voyage of discoveries where people find things out about themselves, about each other and about the natural world.

It is of course possible to venture into the outdoors and discover very little. Differences may not be noticed much, or if noticed may not be enjoyed, and even if enjoyed may not have much 'educational' value. The process of discovery in the outdoors can falter if the visitors are not in the mood for discovery nor have the confidence to be discoverers. They may have forgotten how to discover – especially if they have become accustomed to being 'consumers' and 'recipients' and are unsure about how to be 'active learners'.

It is direct encounters with the natural world that generate the experiences at the heart of most kinds of 'outdoor education'. And it is the interaction between self, others and the environment that shape these experiences. Each of these three influences (self, others and the environment) can be very powerful. Add skilled facilitation to this dynamic mixture and you have 'outdoor education' – at its best.

You (as a facilitator) first need a reasonably clear picture of what it is that you want to facilitate. A meeting? An activity? Group development? Personal development? Self-directed learning? A learning climate? A learning outcome? Learning skills? Self-esteem? Support? An adventurous attitude? A self-reliant expedition? A commitment to sustainability? Curiosity about nature? Spiritual awareness? Independence? Interdependence? Almost any experience or change valued by participants?

Once you know what it is that you want to facilitate, it is useful to consider any other facilitative forces that could be influencing how things turn out. Amongst these will be the personal attributes of participants, their individually different experiences, the group dynamics, the nature of the activities, and the influence of the natural environment. In outdoor education settings there are so many potentially facilitative influences around, that it makes sense to ensure that they are identified, appreciated and engaged. The value of doing so, and of doing so in a facilitative way, also happens to be well supported by research studies reviewed in 'Why Adventure?' (Barret & Greenaway, 1995).

There is an enormous range of facilitation styles to be found in outdoor education. This diversity can be confusing. Despite much overlap in practice, facilitation is commonly understood to be less directive than teaching.

A useful 'rule of thumb' distinction between facilitation and teaching is that in facilitation, the goal is usually for people to learn something that nobody knows at the beginning, whereas in teaching the goal is usually for people to learn what the teacher already knows.

In most forms of outdoor education it is likely that both kinds of goal exist - so you may want to move between 'facilitating' and 'teaching'. But even when you have the knowledge or skill that others are trying to learn, it does not automatically follow that you abandon facilitation. There are many aspects of outdoor education (camp cooking, map reading, weather forecasting, first aid, and many environmental education topics) that are unlikely to be discovered without some assistance. But with imagination, even these very 'teachable' skills and topics can be learned by experiential methods and appropriate facilitation. For example, Joseph Cornell is an outstanding example of an environmental educator for whom direct experience is central to his philosophy and methods. In his foreword to 'Sharing Nature With Children', Cornell writes:

Each of the games creates a situation or an experience, in which nature is the teacher. Each game is a mouthpiece for nature - sometimes speaking in the language of the scientist, sometimes in that of the artist or mystic (Cornell, 1979:8).

In 'Sharing the Joy of Nature' Cornell describes the four stage sequence that he uses to facilitate what he describes as 'Learning with a Natural Flow':

  1. Awaken Enthusiasm
  2. Focus Attention
  3. Direct Experience
  4. Share Inspiration

Cornell explains:

I call the fourth stage 'sharing inspiration', because sharing strengthens and clarifies our own deep experiences... After a successful Flow Learning session, each person feels a subtle, enjoyable awareness of oneness with nature and an increased empathy with all of life (Cornell, 1989).

This is the challenge for all outdoor educators: to make students' own experiences central to the whole process – especially if we happen to believe that 'all genuine knowledge originates in direct experience' (Mao Tse Tung). Outdoor education is not just about changing the scenery. It is an opportunity for much deeper change – which facilitation can help or hinder.

Varieties Of Facilitation

'Facilitation' is often described as the art of making things easy for others, but if you make things too easy you risk returning to the spoon-feeding tradition in which learners passively digest whatever the educator wants them to. In essence, facilitation is an enabling role in which the focus is usually on what the learner is doing and experiencing rather than on what the educator is doing. Some of the facilitation styles that are used by outdoor educators are described next.

Non-directive facilitation

In his essay 'Adventure Education' David Charlton provides an example of this approach:

'The facilitator recognises the various signals given by the students indicating when and which way they want to go. The facilitator then creates the opportunity that enables them to go that way' (Charlton, c.1980).

Even if you do not adopt a non-directive stance all of the time, there are situations where it can be an effective strategy – for example, where you believe that students can work things out for themselves and will find it more rewarding to do so. An impartial stance can also help to encourage discussion or defuse conflict or help students become more independent and responsible. But there are some issues on which you should not attempt to be neutral. These are your non-negotiable educational values – which you should be clear about to yourself and to others (Heron, 1999:33-4).

Appreciative facilitation

Appreciative facilitation emphasises what works well and pays attention to success and achievement. At its simplest, it involves catching students at their best moments and providing positive feedback about what they did or said. Alternatively you can invite positive comments from participants for each other following a group exercise. Or just ask, 'What is working well?'. Cheri Torres brings together her enthusiasm for appreciative facilitation and mobile ropes courses in 'The Appreciative Facilitator' (Torres, 2001). Her handbook includes summaries of key research supporting appreciative facilitation, such as the 'Pygmalion Effect' ('As the teacher believes the student to be, so the student becomes') and how watching videos of your own successful performances leads to much greater improvements than watching videos of your mistakes. Appreciative facilitation draws on ideas and principles from Appreciative Inquiry (an approach to organisation development) and Solution Focused Brief Therapy ('Be careful what you attend to. What you focus on expands.'). Appreciative facilitation fits well with outdoor education, both as a source of techniques and as a philosophy.

Activity facilitation

This approach emphasises the facilitator's role during a group activity. Sometimes the facilitator may simply be enabling a group to achieve a task in the time available. But where the purpose of the activity is to generate experiences from which people will learn, the facilitator may want to intervene during the activity in order to influence what is experienced. This will typically involve changing the rules in some way – with or without consultation with the group. The Facilitator's Toolkit (Thiagarajan & Thiagarajan, 1999) is mostly about activity facilitation. The context is indoor training for adults, but much of this 'toolkit' can readily be adapted for outdoor education. Outdoor educators have less control over the many variables that influence what is experienced, but there are always plenty of ways in which 'activity facilitation' can enhance the quality of the experience. In 'Learning Through First Hand Experience Out of Doors', Pat Keighley describes many ways in which activities in the outdoors can be designed and adapted to provide experience-based elements of the National Curriculum in Physical Education, Science, Geography, Maths and English (Keighley, 1998).

Group facilitation

'Group Facilitation' can apply to any group situations - from the running of effective meetings (and keeping to the agenda) through to sensitivity group training (where there is no agenda). Like it or not, the group dynamics in outdoor education can have greater impact than 'the outdoors'. If the development of group skills is not a priority it may still be necessary to use group facilitation skills to redirect attention to 'the outdoors'. If the primary aim is social development or team building, group facilitation is clearly a must. But whatever your main purpose, you will at the very least want to ensure that the group climate is a highly favourable climate for learning and development. 'The Zen of Groups' (Hunter, Bailey & Taylor, 1992) is a good introduction to the basics of facilitating group development. More advanced (and drawing on much of his experience working with groups in the outdoors) is Martin Ringer's 'Group Action' (Ringer, 2001) which provides a psychodynamic perspective on group facilitation in experiential learning and adventure therapy.

Adventure programming

This approach to facilitation includes such techniques as 'Frontloading', 'Isomorphic Framing', and 'Paradoxical Symptom Prescriptions' (Priest & Gass, 1997:190-221). This language implies a directive style of facilitation that leaves little to chance. Their emphasis on 'presenting' metaphors in advance of the activity puts the facilitator in the role of storyteller before participants have had the experiences to fit the story. This is an interesting mixture of drama and adventure in which participants are effectively improvising within the frame provided by the facilitator's script. It is a style of facilitation that has been comprehensively challenged by Johan Hovelynck who is concerned that 'adventure education is increasingly adopting the didactic teaching methods that it set out to be an alternative for' (Hovelynck, 2001). Priest and Gass appreciate the 'drawbacks' of framing. This is the last of six drawbacks that they identify:

By narrowing the focus of a frame to a predetermined metaphoric message, you are dictating what will be learned in the activity. Even if you are on target with the frame, by prescribing the way the experience will be interpreted, other metaphors may not be available for the group to interpret (Priest & Gass, 1997:215).

Even when there is pressure to achieve particular outcomes, it by no means follows that 'predetermined' and 'prescribed' interpretations will be the most effective facilitation strategy. If interpretation precedes experience, the 'experience' is little more than an illustration in the facilitator's story. This is 'confirming through experience' rather than 'learning from experience'.

Choosing A Facilitation Style

Five styles of facilitation found in outdoor education have been outlined above. All have their advantages and disadvantages. In practice, facilitators often have a 'home' style that corresponds most closely to their values, and pick and mix ideas from other sources. If this sounds too haphazard, you will find excellent guidance in John Heron's 'The Complete Facilitator's Handbook' about switching between different styles according to what is most facilitative for learners at the time. Heron's matrix of the dimensions and modes of facilitation can be used to help you decide when to take charge, when to negotiate and when to stand back. It can also be used as a self-review tool (Heron, 1999:342-3).

Does research provide any guidance about choosing a facilitation style? Sivasailam Thiagarajan (Thiagi) spent 15 years in field research in what he admits was 'a futile attempt' to discover the secrets of 'effective facilitators' (who were rated highly by their peers and participants). Thiagi reported:

I did not find consistent, common behaviours among these facilitators. Further, even the same facilitator appeared to use different behaviours with different groups, even when conducting the same activity. To make matters worse, the same facilitator sometimes used different behaviours with the same group within the same activity at different times (Thiagarajan & Thiagarajan, 1999:48).

Inconsistency appears to be what effective facilitators have in common! Thiagi eventually concluded that effective facilitators are: flexible, adaptive, proactive, responsive and resilient. Stuart Wickes came to similar conclusions when he carried out a study of effective facilitation in outdoor management development. Wickes' study highlighted (amongst other factors) the importance of personal commitment, the ability to work with 'feelings and intuition' and the ability to work with 'clarity of intention' (Wickes, 2000:40).

Such findings are consistent with this guidance from Dale Hunter and colleagues for group facilitators:

Be yourself. As a facilitator, you will be most effective when you are being your natural self and allowing your own personality to be expressed. People get permission to be themselves from the way a facilitator behaves – that is, through modelling. If you are stiff and formal, the group tends to be like that. If you are relaxed and self-expressed, the group tends to be like that too (Hunter et al., 1992:54).

Search hard enough and you can probably find research supporting your own preferred facilitation style. Whatever that may be, the research reported above suggests that you should not be a slave to just one style. Such advice is particularly relevant in the unpredictable arena of outdoor education. You need freedom for manoeuvre, room for judgement, flexibility to respond and to make the most of unexpected events and experiences. The challenge is to develop a facilitation style or combination of styles that works for you and your students and that makes good use of the many facilitative influences that are found in outdoor education settings.

Facilitating Reflection

'Quality action and quality reflection on that action are of fundamental and equal importance' (Mortlock, 2001: 119).

Whatever style is adopted, one of the facilitator's primary roles in outdoor education is to facilitate reflection on experience. This process is referred to variously as 'reviewing' or 'debriefing' or 'processing'. Much of the advice in this area centres on the art of questioning. Clifford Knapp's 'Lasting Lessons' is an excellent resource for helping outdoor educators develop their questioning skills (Knapp, 1992). But there are traps awaiting the unwary. After the stimulation of the activity, reviewing sessions can be an anti-climax. In 'Islands of Healing', Schoel warns:

Without the sense of action to the Debrief, it is often a lifeless, futile exercise ... The experience can come alive in the Debrief. The experience can be relived. The discussion is not a static, safe, merely cognitive exercise. It has feeling, anger, frustration, accomplishment and fun (Schoel, Prouty & Radcliffe, 1988:166).

What students experience during a review is at least as important as the experience that they are reviewing. It is not enough to expect that the stimulation of the activity will keep students alert and involved during a dull review in which the facilitator runs through a series of questions. Review sessions are an ideal opportunity for enabling students to be more active learners. Experiential learning is based on learners being active, curious and creative (Kolb, 1984). We should at least seek out learners' own questions. When reviewing in the outdoors there is no shortage of opportunities for active reviewing. The outdoors provides:

  • a breath of fresh air and change of scene that can inspire a refreshingly new approach to learning

  • an abundance of visual aids, some of which are 'the real thing' rather than substitutes for it

  • a naturally stimulating environment for learning that is more 'brain-friendly' (and arouses more 'intelligences') than the most well equipped indoor classrooms

  • space that is useful for more physical reviewing such as action replays, human sculpture, human graphs, or human scales

  • privacy for solo reflection

  • freedom from fixed or cumbersome furniture – you can move quickly between large group, small group, paired and individual reviewing activities

  • opportunities for walking and talking - for paired discussions or for interviewing each other

  • sand or soft earth for drawing anything such as a graph for showing ups and downs, a journey towards a goal, a force field, a flow chart, or a learning model

  • natural objects and materials that can be collected and arranged as collages or sculptures or maps of a journey

  • natural objects that can be arranged and moved to represent the changing group dynamics

  • viewpoints from where participants indicate places that evoke thoughts or feelings associated with the experience being reviewed

  • opportunities for reflective exercises such as guided reflections or making personal gifts from natural materials (Greenaway, 1995)

  • opportunities for reflective drama inspired by the location or by environmental themes such as life cycles, the food chain, the web of life

  • A 'Canterbury Tales' journey where each review topic happens at a different location.

  • the opportunity to 'walk through' what happened or perform an action replay

  • the opportunity to have a second go, and compare the differences between 'take one' and 'take two'

  • 'teachable moments' or 'learning opportunities' which are best caught there and then as they happen.

Once you discover that you can abandon indoor teaching aids and exploit resources and opportunities in the outdoors for reviewing, you will become tuned in to spotting good reviewing locations and making the most of them. By making reviewing active, mobile and outdoors, the reviews themselves can be at least as memorable as the outdoor experiences being reviewed. This makes the learning as memorable as the experience in which it is grounded.

Whose voices?

Let mountains speak for themselves and students may only hear the echoes of their hopes and fears – or silence. Let facilitators talk too much and that is all that students will hear. Give students a chance to voice their experiences and you and they will find endless rewards in learning from experiences outdoors.


Barret, J. & Greenaway, R. (1995) Why Adventure? The Role and Value of Outdoor Adventure in Young People's Personal and Social Development. Coventry: Foundation for Outdoor Adventure.

Charlton D. (c. 1980) Adventure Education. (essay) North Wales: CELMI.

Cornell, J. (1979) Sharing Nature with Children. Exley/Amanda Publications.

Cornell, J. (1989) Sharing the Joy of Nature. Dawn Publications.

Greenaway, R. (1993) Playback: A Guide to Reviewing Activities. Windsor: The Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

Heron, J. (1999) The Complete Facilitator's Handbook. London: Kogan Page.

Hovelynck J. (2001) Beyond didactics: a reconnaissance of experiential learning. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 6, (1), 4-12.

Hunter, D., Bailey, A. & Taylor, B. (1992) The Zen of Groups: The Handbook for People Meeting with a Purpose. Auckland: Tandem Press.

Keighley, P. (1998) Learning Through First Hand Experience Out of Doors: the contribution which outdoor education can make to children's learning as part of the National Curriculum. Sheffield: National Association for Outdoor Education.

Knapp, C. (1992) Lasting Lessons: A Teacher's Guide to Reflecting on Experience. Charleston, ERIC/CRESS.

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Mortlock, C. (2001) Beyond Adventure. Milnthorpe: Cicerone Press.

Priest, S., & Gass, M. (1997) Effective Leadership in Adventure Programming. Champaign: Human Kinetics.

Ringer, M. (2002) Group Action: The Dynamics of Groups in Therapeutic, Educational and Corporate Settings. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.

Rogers, C. (1969) Freedom to Learn: A View Of What Education Might Become. Columbus, Ohio: C. E. Merrill.

Schoel, J., Prouty, D. & Radcliffe, P. (1988) Islands of Healing: A Guide to Adventure Based Counselling. Hamilton, MA.: Project Adventure.

Torres, C. (2001) The Appreciative Facilitator. Maryville, Tennessee: Mobile Team Challenge.

Thiagarajan, S. & Thiagarajan, R. (1999) Facilitator's Toolkit. Bloomington, Indiana: Workshops by Thiagi.

Wickes, S. (2000) The Facilitators' Stories: What's it like to facilitate at your very best? Brathay Topical Papers, 2 : 25-46. Kendal: Stramongate Press.

Author Biography

Roger Greenaway trained and worked as a teacher of outdoor education and has a doctorate in outdoor management development. He discovered 'reviewing' during his six years as a 'development trainer' at Brathay where he worked with young people, with managers and with trainers. Roger continues to retain an active interest in both youth development and management development and has travelled to many countries to provide trainer-training events in reviewing skills and the transfer of learning. He has written several books and articles on the subject and maintains an encyclopaedic website on reviewing and outdoor education topics at


Thank you to Peter Barnes, editor of The Russell House Outdoor Education Companion for permission to publish this chapter here at

How to reference this page

Offline: Greenaway, R. (2004) "Facilitation and Reviewing in Outdoor Education" in Barnes, P. and Sharp, R. (Eds) The RHP Companion to Outdoor Education Russell House Publishing | ISBN 1-903855-36-5 | Description, full list of contents and how to buy this book online

Other 'outdoor' articles by Roger Greenaway include:

In Search of Respectable Adventure
Reviewing Adventure Activities
Reviewing with Ropes
Is it always necessary to review...?
A View into the Future: The Value of Other Ways of Learning and Development in Other Ways of Learning 
Stimulation vs Simulation: Outdoor Stories and Indoor Stories

 INDEX to - resources for dynamic learning
 How to find your way around

Copyright Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training, who promotes ACTIVE LEARNING via