Images of Outdoor Management Development.

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On this page I develop a model which explains the linked processes which enable participants on Outdoor Management Development (OMD) courses to acknowledge and work with their feelings and emotions to enable them to use the active experimentation stage of the Kolb learning cycle to benefit from an experiential learning process.

The findings from this study have shown how the OMD courses which participants attended were characterised by the use of the experiential learning cycle, rather than any of the above features. This brings me to the first contribution to the theoretical understanding of OMD I wish to highlight:

Active experimentation - OMD courses place an emphasis on active experimentation stage of the experiential learning cycle. Participants contrasted the `classroom' as a place where learning is synonymous with information transmission with the outdoors, which involve the delegates in activities and discussions. This reflects the ideas put forward by Knowles (1990), Kolb (1984) and Rogers (1983) about participants taking an active part in their learning. Furthermore, the descriptions of experiential learning by Kolb, a development of Dewey's (1938) writing on educative experience, are recognisable in participants' descriptions of reviewing and experimenting. In contrast to many of the simplified descriptions of the Kolb's learning cycle which stress the role of reflective observation, participants emphasised the benefits derived from the active experimentation stage of the learning cycle.

Whilst this conclusion is supported by both participants on the courses and a section of the OMD literature, the understanding participants have of OMD courses added further insights. These emerged as a result of analysis that followed a systematic procedure for the analysis of the fieldwork data provided from the prescriptions of Grounded Theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967, Glaser 1992). This produced a conceptual framework, grounded in the data, which clarifies and elaborates some of the processes of experiential learning evident on an OMD course.

The role of emotions as part of active experimentation

Participants described the distinctive way in which OMD courses use the experiential learning cycle. which I have summarised in a way which reflects the linkages between them and the influence on each process of the next. These conclusions concerning the role of emotions point to 5 linked processes which support the active experimentation stage of the experiential learning cycle.

  1. The role of the trainer The modelling of behaviours to produce a climate between participants and anyone they come into contact with during the course.
  2. The role of the learning climate Climate (effected by any person involved in the course) of support, reassurance, and an absence of judgement, pressure or blame.
  3. The role of feelings and emotions To actively experiment participants needed to feel free from any fears of the negative consequences of failure.
  4. Learning from success and failure As a result participants learnt from experimentation, regardless of success or failure in any of the activities.
  5. Outcomes from the course The course resulted in changes in the way participants feel towards themselves and other course participants.

1. The role of the trainer - The trainer plays a primary role in the creation of a specific climate which influences how people behave towards each other. The trainer is responsible for creating an atmosphere on the course which is conducive to experiential learning and which may be described as the learning climate. This places them in the role of facilitator rather than teacher, in a relationship with the learner which is characterised by care, respect and trust and which aims to release their potential rather than correct their deficiencies. Participants identified a relationship with the trainer which included many aspects which corresponded to those described by Rogers (1983), Heron (1989), and Knowles (1990) and Vince's writing on Kolb (1998). Not only were these behaviours evident in the relationship between participants, as Rogers suggests they would if the trainer models them, but similar behaviours from staff at Brathay Hall who came into contact with participants were seen to significantly contribute to the climate.

2. The role of the learning climate - The climate on the course is one of support, reassurance, and an absence of judgement, pressure or blame. The climate enabled participants to experiment at the edge of their competence, with high risk of making mistakes, was to feel part of an atmosphere. The climate contained certain features which included; the opportunity to decline to take part in activities, no blame for mistakes, open communication about aspects of the tasks which were difficult and which caused them to feel inadequate or incompetent. This identification of the features of a climate that supports active experimentation is an example of how feelings and emotions can be managed to help learners benefit fully from experiential learning.

3. The role of feelings and emotions - The climate effects participants' feelings and emotions which influence their ability to actively experiment. Participants' feel free from any fears of the negative consequences of failure which they may experience at work. This points to a significant role for feelings and emotions not usually acknowledged in descriptions of Kolb's experiential learning cycle (1984). Participants described how they managed their anxieties and defences to help them benefit from an experiential learning programme. This corresponds to suggestions from Vince (1998), who has pointed to the extent to which many descriptions of the Kolb learning cycle ignore the role of feelings and emotions.

4. Learning from success and failure - Active experimentation allows participants to learn from success and failure alike. Participants in this study challenged the idea that delegates need to experience success in order to benefit from attending an OMD course. At first sight this appears to contradict Bandura's notion that the development of self-efficacy can be as a result of mastery experiences (Bandura 1986). However, it may be that participants were reaping the long-term benefits of learning by sacrificing the short-term gains of success, a middle ground described by Kolb between short-term performance and long-term development (Kolb 1984).

5. Outcomes from the course - Course outcomes are mainly changes in the feelings participants have towards themselves and others. The outcomes from OMD cannot be measured in terms of the accumulation of knowledge, understanding or skills, since the course methods are not concerned with the transmission of such content. Participants' reports confirm that changes at an affective as well as a cognitive level. These are similar to the changes in judgements of their personal efficacy suggested by Bandura's theories of self-efficacy (1986), although they appear to have a different source, active experimentation rather than mastery experiences. Similar outcomes in terms of the feelings participants have for each other confirm Kolb's suggestion that experiential learning helps individuals better understand their relationships with other people. Such changes are likely to present problems for course evaluations which seek to measure the effects of course attendance.

Philip Donnison

October 2000

Introduction Contents Abstract What is OMD? Literature Methodology Conclusions Contact Me