Outdoor education/Resilience

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Psychological resilience in outdoor education

Outdoor education offers an ideal environment through which psychological resilience can be developed.

But it is not a "given" that resilience will be enhanced.

Kurt Hahn referred to Outward Bound as a "double-edged sword" because it cuts and heals.

The challenge-based learning model requires a degree of stress - or moving outside of comfort zones - with the goal of thereby strengthening coping strategies and widening the circle of comfort.

But experiences can go awry - an experience could cut only (e.g., a traumatic experience) - or even cause death.

So, we need to be careful to customise and tailor environments and activities to optimise the likelihood of growth. This is essentially the message of John Dewey's classic "Experience and Education".

The greater the level of challenge, the greater the level of scaffolding and support needed to ensure that participants are likely to experience growth rather than damage.

Neill and Dias (2001) highlighted the importance of social support, particularly preventing the damage of negative social support, as an ingredient for building resilience in outdoor adventure learning.

More broadly, programs that aim to enhance resilience could focus on training “coping skills” in these environments and programs (Booth & Neill, 2017). Resilience is partly a mindset, but ultimately needs to be built through experience – and then generalised in the form of flexible coping skills that apply to other contexts.

It could also be useful to bring in resilience development as a metacognitive narrative (appropriate to the age level) to the curriculum – rather than just “hoping” it will happen.