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8. Exploring the Ingredients of Outdoor Adventure:
Research Summary

This is an extract from pages 30-31 and 50-51 of the research review
This page does not include all summary sections of the report.
More information about this report  |  Bibliography ~ References

8.1 The ADVENTURE in outdoor adventure

  • Very little data has been generated which looks at the processes of outdoor adventure programmes.
  • There is very little research data about the relative significance of the various ingredients that make up an adventure programme.
  • Much of the research about the "adventure ingredient" is in the form of insights from various champions of outdoor adventure, rather than in the form of objective empirical studies.
  • Most research about adventure has been concentrated on just one kind of programme: intensive developmental programmes - especially those for young people in trouble or 'at risk'.
  • To understand the ways in which adventure contributes to young people's development, it is necessary to investigate the various processes from the individual perspectives of young people.
  • No research has been found which systematically traces the various ways in which adventure affects individual young people's development.
  • The relative importance of two ingredients of adventure programmes - 'adventure' and 'reviewing' - can be partly resolved by drawing on experiential learning theory, and partly by drawing on theories about meeting young people's developmental needs.
  • New policies and practices in outdoor adventure are seeking greater equality of opportunity amongst young people.
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8.2 The GROUP dimension of Outdoor Adventure

  • The group dimension of outdoor adventure can be highly significant in bringing about the personal and social development of young people.
  • Challenges in a wilderness setting can facilitate group bonding and co-operation.
  • Co-operative learning is a potent developmental tool, and can be a major strength of outdoor adventure.
  • The residential aspect of some outdoor adventure experiences can be particularly valuable.
  • The size of group is important; the optimum size will depend on the desired outcomes.
  • Research studies into 'group work plus adventure' in the UK focus on outcomes rather than process, giving little attention to the reviewing of activities.
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8.3 The Influence of STAFF in Outdoor Adventure

  • Research into effective teaching styles in adventure (indoors and outdoors) shows a facilitative style to be most conducive to personal and social development.
  • Outdoor activities can help to reduce formality, and develop staff/pupil relationships. Staff need training in appropriate interpersonal skills if they are to advance rather than retard young people's development.
  • Staff need some understanding of developmental psychology, if their claims about their practice influencing young people's development are to be credible.
  • No research has been found about the developmental effects of short-term and long-term relationships between outdoor staff and young people.
  • Evidence from a number of sources illustrates the different ways that 'adventure in the classroom' can positively influence young people's personal and social development.
  • These appear to be dependent on the teachers' commitment and ability to adopt experience-based, student-centred approaches such as those developed in New York classrooms.
  • Both Active Tutorial Work and City Bound Flanders demonstrate the extent to which the principles of adventure-based learning can provide the "core tenets" of a coherent and effective developmental programme without the ingredient of outdoor physical adventure.
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8.4 SPORT, Physical Education and Outdoor Adventure

  • Whilst the developmental value of sport is taken for granted, that of outdoor adventure remains in question, largely because a higher standard of proof is demanded. This is possibly because outdoor adventure is a relative 'newcomer', and because larger claims are made about its developmental benefits.
  • Outdoor adventure and sport share many common ingredients and a common history.
  • There is growing concern to promote equal opportunities in both sport and outdoor adventure.
  • The function of sport (including outdoor activities) is given little systematic analytical attention by statutory and voluntary bodies working with young people.
  • Various developmental benefits are associated with regular physical exercise: such as humour, patience, energy, ambition, optimism, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-assurance, emotional stability, improved body image, and a more easy-going and good-tempered nature.
  • Failure in sport and outdoor adventure can be a self-destructive experience spreading negative effort to other aspects of self, whereas success is self-enhancing.
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8.5 The ENVIRONMENT and Outdoor Adventure

  • For many young people, experiences in the outdoors involve a spiritual dimension.
  • Contact with the natural environment has been shown to have important health-giving effects, and is a great source of sensory pleasure.
  • Misdirected intervention from staff can hinder beneficial developmental effects resulting from young people's contact with the natural environment.
  • The insights of experiential learning together with the increasing popularity of interdisciplinary approaches are transforming both environmental education and adventure education.
  • Environmental and adventure education are becoming more like one another, increasing scope for integrated programmes.
  • Environmental abuse has a disproportionately damaging effect on young people.
  • Many young people demonstrate a concern for environmental issues which deserves to be addressed through youth work, including outdoor adventure.
  • Young people's access to the natural world is limited by economic and social inequality and discrimination.
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Extract from Part Three of 'Why Adventure?'



18.1 Improvements caused by some applications of outdoor adventure in dimensions of self-concept, locus of control and in socialisation with peers and adults are likely to contribute to the process of healthy adolescent development. This may assist in diverting near delinquents and temporary delinquents from offending. School or community based enrichment programmes using developmental activities that appeal to young people, may help to reduce the prevalence of adverse factors in young people's lives (for example, school failure, bullying, teenage pregnancy, intra-familial conflict, removal to residential care settings).

18.2 Developmental prevention schemes that emphasise the enhancement of cognitive and social cognitive functioning in young people, whether they be non-delinquents, near or temporary delinquents or persistent delinquents, may be particularly effective in preventing and reducing offending behaviours. These findings may provide a basis for developing a clear rationale for the role of outdoor adventure in prevention schemes.


18.3 In order to reduce offending significantly, an emphasis upon enhanced pro-social and non-delinquent self-conceptions is necessary, alongside improvements in reasoning skills and social cognitive functioning. This is particularly true for persistent or serious young delinquents and offenders. Gains in pro-social self concept may be best achieved through close involvement with non-delinquents. This involvement may be provided by adult staff, but close association with non-delinquent peers seems to be of equal if not more importance in achieving this outcome.

18.4 As yet no clear rationales appear to exist for the role of outdoor adventure in rehabilitation. Some caution may be necessary in developing a rationale based on the above findings. In particular, outcomes of improved cognitive and social cognitive functioning appear to be dependent on an intensity of provision and an integrity of treatment process that may not be easy to replicate in all outdoor adventure settings.

18.5 Outdoor adventure applications that create 'cognitive dissonance' may enhance opportunities for cognitive and social cognitive development. Nevertheless many applications of outdoor adventure may be more readily utilised as an adjunctive provision alongside community-based cognitive and social cognitive training.

Therapeutic treatment

18.6 In the therapeutic treatment of emotionally or behaviourally disturbed young people, a more intensive developmental intervention is required. In this context, certain applications of outdoor adventure may potentially be valuable.

18.7 Improvements in self-concept and in social cognitive functioning may help to alleviate emotional or behavioural difficulties experienced by young people at risk from factors other than delinquency. However, caution is required in the development a rationale for this therapeutic application of outdoor adventure. These are evolving abroad, notably in the USA (surveyed in Brocklebank, 1993), but at present only a very small amount of 'adventure therapy' practice appears to take place in the UK.

Adjunctive resource

18.8 Outdoor adventure with young people in trouble or at risk appears to be best used as an adjunctive resource to long term community-based provision appropriate to an individual young person's needs.

Assessment of needs

18.9 Some outdoor adventure, especially residential programmes, may be effective in assessing young people's needs for future intervention or follow-up. The communal setting, novel and challenging activities, and intense small group experiences combine to reveal characteristics which may not emerge in conventional treatment settings.

Group development

18.10 Small group participation in enjoyable outdoor adventure appears to improve individual socialisation which in turn may assist conflict resolution. Shared participation in challenging adventure activities can result in improved understanding, trust and communication between young participants and between young people and adult staff..

18.11 Although these findings are based only on anecdotal evidence, further research into the generalised potential of outdoor adventure in this area seems unnecessary. However, anecdotal evidence also provides examples of outdoor adventure experiences that have been counterproductive or divisive. Practice may therefore benefit from further research to determine the programme settings, styles and activities, and the characteristics, qualities and levels of involvement of staff that help to achieve desired outcomes (see fig 13). An examination of aspects of inappropriate programming and staffing would also be beneficial.


18.12 Programmes that enable young participants to be self-determining are more likely to result in positive developmental outcomes than those which impose rigid safety and behavioural regulations. Outdoor adventure programmes can provide opportunities for young people to be involved in programme planning, in establishing group norms, in group maintenance, and in communal 'chores'. They can also offer opportunities for young people to be involved in processes of monitoring and assessment, in the identification of personal 'goals' and in the determination of subsequent interventions and follow-up.

View the Foundation's Manifesto for Outdoor Adventure for Young People

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