The importance of emotions in creating lasting impact and learning, through experiential outdoor education.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Education
The motivation for this research arose from my experiences in education outdoors and through conversations with colleagues and students, which suggest that the outdoors is a high impact learning space. People generally remember their experiences at outdoor camps fondly, in detail and with an element of satisfaction. There is some research to support this but most of it is not conclusive enough to support long term educational planning. This thesis is a research project on the long-term impacts of education in the outdoors. It is looking in particular at the learning of theoretical concepts in an outdoor setting using experiential teaching methods, which aim to stimulate high emotional engagement. The thesis is underpinned by a qualitative methodology using emergent theme analysis of the participants constructed memories and learning. The data collected was analysed using both manual and Nvivo techniques to search for emerging emotions themes. These were then unpacked further in relation to Scherer’s Geneva Emotions Wheel. The research influenced the ongoing development and delivery of the engaging sessions. The research design used in depth interviews with 13 graduates from a course, which had utilised the engaging outdoor and experiential methods. The time since the participants had the experiences was between 1 and 15 years before the interview. The interviews were conducted in a way, which initially minimised any prompting of memory so that the participants’ unsolicited narratives of their experiences and emotions at the time could emerge.
Some expected themes emerged resolutely in many stories, such as enjoyment, excitement and interest. There was also an observable difference between the interesting and enjoyment experiences, with interest being something that grew out of an enjoyable experience. It was remarkable that theoretical learning had been recounted as much as practical learning. An unexpected theme was the occurrence of negative emotions such as frustration and annoyance, but there was a strong trend of adapting to these with emotion regulation skills. A significant occurrence was the many vivid and strong memories of recalled experiences that had had a high learning impact, named in this thesis as “High Impact Learning Moments”. These seemed to link both emotions and cognition into a memorable and deep learning experience. A model is presented to use as a reflection tool for all learning moments, as the data suggested that there is a strong connection between the emotions and learning. Conclusions are presented and recommendations for future research suggested. Finally, the exciting implications of embedding these engaging methods into practice is illuminated. This research lends further weight to the power of emotional engagement in learning experiences in the outdoors and is a small contribution to the growing body of research on the emotions and learning.