Teaching with transfer in mind

Teachers can make outdoor learning even more impactful for their students.

There is more learning to be gained from outdoor adventure experiences, and teaching with transfer in mind may hold the key. Our Head of Learning and Impact, Dr John Allan, shares his insight.

How do young people learn from outdoor adventure experiences at Kingswood?

Outdoor adventure programmes aim to deliver intense, inclusive challenges coupled with reflective practice that generate personal growth. It’s the time, space and sense of community afforded by residentials that allows participants to be immersed in novel ways of learning, which are both memorable and impactful.

Why is teaching with learning transfer in mind so important?

Critics argue that positive changes in behaviour following an outdoor adventure programme, such as increases in resilience or self-confidence, are largely based upon untested assumptions. Therefore, any positive outcomes attributed to these experiences remain situation-specific and do not readily transfer to everyday settings. This is simply not the case. However, as a passionate advocate of outdoor adventure learning, I agree there is still limited evidence which pays attention to how outdoor experiences construct meaning and shape knowledgeable outcomes for young people for the long-term. Consolidating learning and teaching with transferability beyond a residential experience is vital to fully embed the skill development gained from often a short school trip - making the learning last.

How can young people benefit from teachers being part of their outdoor learning experience?

The most impactful outdoor adventure programmes are those which enlist the collaborative effort of teachers, talk the language of schools, align to curriculum learning and empower youngsters to become educated risk-takers. Did you know that receiving positive reinforcement from a meaningful adult, such as a teacher, has 10 times more positive impact on a young person’s self-efficacy? Which is why we actively encourage teachers to be part of our programmes and a young person’s learning experience.

Is there any research to evidence the lasting learning impact from outdoor adventure?

Although the transferability of outdoor learning is an on-going research endeavour for practitioners, I and others have published research that shows the longitudinal impact from young peoples’ exposure to outdoor learning. This includes the effect such experiences have upon academic achievement, capability in dealing with set-backs, making educational transitions and building lasting relationships.

Presently, Kingswood have launched an interactive Confidence Tracker which supports educators to evidence the powerful outcomes of a residential Kingswood trip whilst enabling young people to share their experiences with parents or carers. In 2023, we plan to integrate a purpose-built accredited curriculum of differentiated life-skills across our provision which can also be delivered/followed up in schools. Through such mechanisms, outdoor adventure teaching with transfer in mind can deliver learning that lasts beyond novelty and formulates a repertoire of adaptive skill sets for the future.

The efficacy of outdoor adventure learning for young people whose happiness, according to The Children’s Society continues to decline post-Covid, is more important than ever. I have published material that seeks to identify the interactive ingredients of change within outdoor adventure programmes that generate behavioural changes. These include aspects of the physical setting, groups, participant and teaching and learning practices which can aid the process of facilitating lasting change. If we are able to successfully predict outcomes from the most powerful experiences reported by participants, we can then start to purposefully design programmes to optimise their growth for the long-term.

I have also aimed to shed a scientific light into the processes of building the resilience of the brain (growth and rewiring of existing cells) directly in response to outdoor adventure exposure. For example, this work argues that the multisensory nature of the outdoor environments supports lasting brain adaptation compared to uni-sensory settings for learning. Further, balancing the novelty of outdoor adventure with known experiences - to make it worth learning and relevant to everyday life - is needed within organised chunks of learning with interruptions for explanation, or quiet time, to allow new neural pathways to be strengthened. This understanding is both fascinating and essential in how we frame and consolidate learning in the outdoors. It also signifies the importance of purposefully building outdoor learning emphasised through an immediate quality of experience which impacts upon later experiences through planned transfer.

Inspired? Make an enquiry about your next school or group trip here