This thesis aims to develop the theoretical understanding of Outdoor Management Development (OMD) based on an integration of course participants understanding of OMD and the body of knowledge held in the literature on OMD.
In order to compare participants understanding of OMD with the variety of assertions made in the literature, this study took a more naturalistic approach than the majority of previous studies into OMD. This represents an alternative approach to the quasi-experimental methodology adopted by much of the previous research in this field. Course participants understanding of OMD was elicited using a qualitative approach, rather than quantitative approach, to the fieldwork. Forty-six course participants were interviewed, individually or within focus-group discussions, at least two months after their attendance on an OMD course. This produced seventy pages of interview transcript data, which was subject to a systematic analysis to identify participants conceptualisation of OMD. The literature on OMD, represented by 120 articles from 1981 to 1998, was also treated as data, and compared with participants understanding OMD to produce four main sets of findings. These were concerned with the explicit use of the experiential learning cycle on OMD courses with particular emphasis on the active experimentation stage, the need for a supportive climate, the role of the facilitator and the outcomes from the course.
The links between the findings and the relevant theories of learning were then examined, particularly connections with the theories of experiential learning and their associated critiques. The findings support suggestions that many descriptions of experiential learning place an emphasis on the rational aspects of the process and pay little or no attention to the emotional side of the experience. Participants in this study stressed the role of feelings and emotions during activities associated with the active experimentation stage of the Kolbs experiential learning cycle. The feelings and emotions participants held during the course influenced their ability to actively experiment. To learn from success and failure alike they required a climate of support, reassurance, and an absence of judgement, pressure or blame, which was created mainly by the person occupying the role of facilitator on the OMD course. Participants also described the outcomes from the course in terms of the changes in the feelings they had towards themselves and other people. This suggests that OMD course outcomes are changes in participants feelings and emotions, rather than their cognitive or intellectual development. These conclusions are presented as a model of active experimentation on outdoor courses which describes the processes of experiential learning, the linkages which underpin them and the role of feelings and emotions in the experiential learning cycle.
The naturalistic approach to the study has resulted in a set of conclusions based on the in-depth study of the understanding participants developed of a specific form of OMD. This can be contrasted with the broad spectrum of OMD course provision described in the literature. Before generalising the conclusions to any other OMD course, the setting for the course should be examined to ensure that it is similar to the setting from which the conclusions were derived. The context in which this research took place is described in detail to ensure that such an examination is possible.