Research in Outdoor Education


Adventure recreation pursuits can be used as a vehicle for educational growth through a phenomenon known as adventure education (Priest, 1986). While many different types of adventure education programs exist, all are based at least in part on the traditional Outward Bound model. Walsh and Golins (1976) developed the Outward Bound Process model in an attempt to describe how adventure education programs lead to interpersonal and intrapersonal growth. They suggest that an adventure program's efficacy lies in placing the learner in a combination of novel physical, task, and social environments. This combination of setting characteristics creates a state of dissonance for the learner who slowly gains a sense of achievement that can then be transferred to the real world for long-term behavioral change (Walsh & Golins, 1976).

An expanding body of literature has developed to support the overall effectiveness of adventure education and therapy programs (see for reviews Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997; Neill, 2003). However, the model has been criticized as atheoretical (McKenzie, 2000, 2003). Recent work has attempted to provide both a theoretical development of, as well as empirical backing for the model (Goldenberg, McAvoy & Klenosky, 2005; McKenzie, 2003; Sibthorp, 2003a). Still, Ewert's insistence over two decades ago that "we have discovered an educational black box, we know something works but we don't know why or how" (1983, p. 27) remains relevant today.

To unravel the mystery of the "black box," this study seeks to better understand the role of the social environment in the adventure education experience by examining the potential impact of social support networks on program outcomes. Ewert and McAvoy (2000) write that "the group dynamics, group interaction and group development that happen during group experiences tend to influence most of the potential and documented benefits" (p. 22) of adventure programs. Kimball and Bacon (1993) posit that "because personality is formed and shaped largely through our contact and involvement with others, it can be reshaped through this same intimate contact" (p. 22). An understanding of how different social interactions and structures lead to different levels of outcomes is critical for providing adventure experiences that maximize the potential for participant growth. The following sections provide a review of the literature on adventure education and adventure therapy programs and an introduction. to the use of social network measurement.