There have been many studies over the last few years linking student success and development at college to the extra-curricular activities and roles of students. These studies confirm something that may already seem intuitive – that learning does not only take place in the classroom. Take a look at the above article to learn more about the specific interaction between outdoor adventure programming and its impact on the college experience.
So why is this? And what is learning? Certainly we could come up with a variety of definition and ideas that describe learning. What if we thought of learning as simply ecountering something new? See, the known is simply that – it is known. It is already acquired and possessed. It already holds a space in our experience. But, the unknown, that is where we hold a void in our understanding. That is where the great potential is stored. It has the potential to fill something within us – to leave impact and impression. It’s like the apple being held from the top of a tower waiting to be dropped. But is it enough to simply have potential? Is it enough to simply bump into the unknown? If you bumped into the unknown with a blindfold on, would you have any idea what it was other than the fact that it existed?
So, perhaps learning is not only the encounter of something new, but truly engaging what you have encountered. Perhaps it is in the inspecting of the thing encountered. Perhaps it is in the reflection on what is observed. Perhaps it is allowing that thing to leave the impression on you – to come into full contact with it and let it actually influence and change you. It is the rubbing up against things inside yourself and in the world around you, things that you never saw before, that actually allows those things to stay with you. It’s like the stain on my shirt that I got from brushing up against my cup of coffee this morning.
But this might imply a real vulnerability, exposing yourself to something new, something unknown where you cannot predict the outcome. It could be the potential of a new idea, a new thought that doesn’t seem to fit with all that you knew before it. Or maybe it is the potential for a new ability, a new skill, one that requires you do try something you have never done before. But in both cases, you are really engaging that new thing and letting it leave its mark on you. And you are doing things to make it known to you, to possess it for yourself. Thus, you will walk away from that encounter with something. Whatever the outcome, you will walk away with new knowledge and understanding because you engaged something unknown.
Perhaps some would call this experiential learning. But, in this light, isn’t all learning experiential? Whatever the case, academic institutions are seeing more and more the benefit of connecting the academic experience with students’ everyday encounters and interactions. Why? Because there is such great power in connecting what is being learned and the ability to see the impact that knowledge can have on the world. And what better way than to experience that impact?
For outdoor education, there seems to be a very special potential because it provides a very organic setting, one that illustrates so well progress through continuous growth and movement. Nature consistently demonstrates how one thing grows in connection and relation to another to create a continuous network that sustains the health and vitality of the whole. It seems to be the ideal place to be able to reflect on encounters and the influence they have had, to slow down and observe the new things we see both inside us and around us and how they nourish and sustain each other. Certainly this does not make the outdoors the exclusive setting for such encounters. But it is one such avenue to utilize surroundings in demonstrating new abilities and new encounters that will help, not only college students, but people in general, to see ideas, knowledge and skill come to life as they encounter it and actualize it. Whether it be the accomplishment of working together as a team, communicating with one another to accomplish the repair of a stone staircase on a trail that will be used be hundreds of people in just one year, or it is simply observing the network of ecology and interdependence of different species as you kayak along a river, there are endless personal discoveries to make in the outdoors as you put ideas into practice and see their impact on your surroundings. These and many other are the ones the encounters that can help enrich the learning experience and bring about a fullness and ownership in understanding.
What are your thoughts?