An enjoyable read and an important contribution to outdoor studies


Jonas Mikaels
The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIH)


Jim Parry & Pete Allison (eds.)
Experiential Learning and Outdoor Education: Traditions of Practice and Philosophical Perspectives
134 pages, paperback
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2021 (Routledge Focus)
ISBN 978-0-367-78779-0

This book consists of eight chapters and is well structured. The first three chapters deals with three different outdoor education traditions. This is followed by three chapters dealing with the theory of experience. The two final chapters reflect upon the central problem: how to explain the fact that short-term (outdoor) learning can have long-lasting (life-changing) effects. First, I will briefly summarise each of the chapters. And then I will share my review and thoughts of the book.

In chapter 1, Ivo Jirásek and Ivana Turčova discuss ‘Experiential pedagogy in the Czech Republic’. The authors introduce a distinctive version of experiential pedagogy originally pursued by the Vacation School of Lipnice. This educational practice developed from movement recreation involving outdoor and cultural activities such as woodcraft, tramping and the scouting movement. The Czech approach is considered unique in its use of physical movement activities together with the method of dramaturgy as the unique contribution to the international community.

In chapter 2, Helga Synnevåg Løvoll discusses the Norwegian tradition of friluftsliv and experiential learning in the outdoors. The theory and practice of vegledning is described as a specific version of experiential learning in the Norwegian friluftsliv tradition. Vegledning builds on contributions by Nils Faarlund and was introduced in the 1970s as a civilisation critique towards Western modern way of life. The Norwegian tradition of friluftsliv is presented as a way of ‘finding home’ and of experiencing the outdoors for the sole enjoyment of being immersed in nature.

Synnevåg Løvoll suggests that there are three different approaches for understanding modern pedagogic practices of Norwegian friluftsliv: pedagogy for friluftsliv, with friluftsliv and within friluftsliv. The core ideal of ‘pedagogy forfriluftsliv’ is underpinned by the act of learning by experience and reflection. One of the key principles is deciding both route and activity based on the participants’ competence. Mastering the skills needed for the chosen activity is regarded as an absolute necessity. ‘Pedagogy with friluftsliv’ refers to the use of the outdoors for pedagogical methods, and emerged in Norway in the mid-1990s. The term ‘uteskole’ or learning outside the classroom reflects the method of using the nearby outdoor environment as a resource in education. And thirdly, ‘pedagogy within friluftsliv’ includes different explorations of deeper meanings of engagement in nature, for example bodily experiences of landscapes and how this may influence our social and cultural interpretations relative to a specific place, rich in local meaning and significance.

I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter by Helga Synnevåg Løvoll discussing the Norwegian tradition of friluftsliv and experiential learning in the outdoors, and the chapter by John Quay, about John Dewey’s conceptualisation of experience.

In chapter 3, Pete Allison discusses ‘Influences on Anglophone approaches to outdoor education’. This is done through the work of three notable characters who have influenced outdoor education in the UK: Jack Longland, Kurt Hahn, and George Murray Levick. Allison suggests that understanding these three characters provide insights that help to make sense of outdoor education practice across the UK today. The unifying theme that the three corresponding philosophies have in common is that outdoor education can contribute to improving society. For Longland (1905-1993), an esteemed climber and university lecturer in English Literature, the emphasis was on social conditions and welfare of the unemployed in the local coalfields. Hahn (1886-1974), creator of Outward Bound and often referred to as the grandfather of outdoor education, and Levick (1876-1956), an explorer who started the Public Schools Exploring Society, were both concerned with improving the individual so that they can contribute to society. Something which resonates with John Dewey’s philosophy of education.

Chapter 4, by Jiří Klouda, focuses on the philosophical background of the concept of ‘lived experience’ formulated by the German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). In chapter 5, ‘Learning as differentiation of experiential schemas’, Jan Halák discusses and critiques the concept of schema as understood by Kant as well as Kolb’s learning cycle, through Merleau-Ponty’s perspective of phenomenology.

In chapter 6, ‘John Dewey’s conceptualisation of experience’, John Quay re-interprets Dewey’s (1938) concept of experience in relation to the problems of education as presented in Dewey’s work. Quay suggests that for many discipline-oriented discourses, such as mathematics education or history education, the emphasis is on content knowledge or pedagogical content knowledge. However, in outdoor education, the experiences of the participants encompass both pedagogy and content. Furthermore, Quay suggests that the educational philosophy of Dewey has played a significant role in helping outdoor educators better to understand and express their practice in theoretical terms.

Chapter 7, ‘The long-term influence of expeditions on people’s lives’, by Ramirez, Allison, Stott and Marshall, provides a synthesis and analysis of three recent studies that shed some light on the long-term outcomes of three different types of youth expeditions. The main conclusion is that these studies confirm the importance and long-term value of such expeditions. In chapter 8, ‘Transformative experiences as a change of horizon’, Ivo Jirásek addresses the issue of how a short-term experience can transform a participant’s life.

I enjoyed reading this book. The chapters are well written and theoretically substantiated. However, a sometimes-one-eyed debate makes it difficult to see the bigger picture and what the aim is of this book. Is it a critique? Or is it about establishing a historical trace when exploring the traditions of experiential learning and outdoor education practice? As I went back to the beginning of the book and once again read the opening words in the introduction, it suddenly occurred to me why I had some difficulty putting all the chapters together and see the bigger picture. It is probably just a misprint, or is it a Freudian slip, when, in the first sentence of editor Jim Parry’s ‘Introduction’, the title of the book is misrepresented – outdoor education is replaced by outdoor recreation. Jim Parry declares that the main aim of the book Experiential Learning and Outdoor Recreation [sic] is to provide a comprehensive conceptual interpretation of the key issue central to the claims of advocates of experiential learning – whether, and if so, how, a short-term singular experience can transform a participant’s life as a whole and in a permanent way.

Furthermore, Parry states that even though such a possibility has been supported by its advocates, the main aim of the analyses in this book is to help disciplines of experiential education and outdoor recreation to move beyond this kind of ’evidence’, towards the level of theoretical discourse. To achieve this, Parry argues that this book aims to help experiential learning to move from a statement that something is happening and from a basic listing of what is happening, to an understanding of how it is happening (emphasis in original). This I find a bit problematic, and the reason for that is that it is assumed that something is happening (my emphasis). In other words, the basic assumption is that a short-term singular experience can transform a participant’s life as a whole and in a permanent way, and the aim is to understand how it is happening.

This book makes an important contribution to the field, and I would recommend this to students in outdoor studies at advanced level who are interested in theoretically and philosophically grounded discussions related to experiential learning and outdoor education. I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter by Helga Synnevåg Løvoll discussing the Norwegian tradition of friluftsliv and experiential learning in the outdoors, and the chapter by John Quay, about John Dewey’s conceptualisation of experience. Depending on your own preferences, I am sure that you will find your own favourites among the eight chapters of this book.

Copyright © Jonas Mikaels 2022

 

Table of Content

Introduction
Jim Parry

      1. Experiential pedagogy in the Czech Republic
        Ivo Jirásek and Ivana Turčová
      2. Experiential Learning in the Outdoors: The Norwegian tradition
        Helga Synnevåg Løvoll
      3. Influences on Anglophone Approaches to Outdoor Education
        Pete Allison
      4. Wilhelm Dilthey: Lived experience and the symbolic productivity of the body
        Jiří Klouda
      5. Learning as Differentiation of Experiential Schemas
        Jan Halák
      6. John Dewey’s concept of experience
        John Quay
      7. The Long-term Influence of Expeditions on People’s Lives
        Maria-Jose Ramirez, Pete Allison, Tim Stott and Aaron Marshall
      8. Transformative Experience as a Change of Horizon
        Ivo Jirásek
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