Learning outcomes of young people on a Greenland expedition: Assessing the educational value of adventure tourism
Introduction Outdoor adventure education has a rich history in the UK (Allison et al., 2011; Allison and Telford, 2005; Cook, 1999; Loynes, 1999a, 1999b). It is a sector of educational provision that has provided challenging experiences as part of and beyond formal schooling with the specific aim of eliciting personal growth in young people in some form for over 100 years. Much adventure-based education is founded on the rich history of expeditions (discussed in further detail below) and on the work of Kurt Hahn (Veevers and Allison, 2011) who was the inspiration for Outward Bound, The Duke of Edinburgh Award, United World Colleges and Round Square Schools. In the USA a parallel and overlapping movement has emerged which draws heavily on experiential learning theory and is often attributed as drawing on the philosophy of American pragmatist and educational philosopher John Dewey (Seaman, 2008). One of the underpinning assumptions of much theory and practice is the premise that humans must encounter their physical and/or psychological limits in order to enhance their capacity to successfully address the challenges of everyday life often associated with developing the virtues (see Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Ewert, 1989; Hunt, 1990; Priest, 1990; Priest and Gass, 1997). This is epitomized by the Hahn quote ‘Your dis ability is your opportunity’ (Hahn, 1960: 4). Despite this ‘development-through-challenge’ approach being widespread in practice, it is largely uncontested as a foundation for a sector that is characterised primarily by residential experiences and expeditions. In the UK, there is a centuries old tradition of adventure and exploration, which some have argued has laid the foundation for the modern concept of outdoor education (Allison and Telford, 2005; Loynes, 1999b; Williams et al., 1998; Westphal, 2011). The first British overseas youth expedition organisation to identify the potential benefits for youth development through expeditions was the Public Schools Exploring Society founded in 1932 (known today as BSES Expeditions) (for a more detailed history see Allison et al., 2011). This sector of outdoor adventure education has grown significantly in the past half century (Hopkins and Putnam, 1993; Nicol, 2002). In the UK, there are now more organisations providing
educational expeditions for young people as school vacation or gap year experiences than ever before (Jones, 2004). Since the 1990s, several studies have attempted to understand the impact of outdoor experiences on young people and, while being cautious of overgeneralisation, positive claims can be found (Hattie et al., 1997; Rickinson et al., 2004). While much research has been conducted in the field of outdoor education programmes in general, a handful of studies which specifically deal with the British youth overseas expeditions include Grey (1984, 1998), Kennedy (1992), Watts et al. (1992, 1993a, 1993b, 1994), Allison (2000, 2001, 2002), Allison and Beames (2010), Stott and Hall (2003), Beames (2003, 2004a 2004b, 2005), Pike and Beames (2007), IPPR (2009), Allison and Von Wald (2010). Both anecdotal evidence, and now a growing body of systematic research evidence (Stott et al. in review) suggests that expedition experiences can develop knowledge, skills and understanding which can enhance a person’s well-being and future employability (e.g. Stott and Hall, 2003). Perhaps the biggest problems with understanding the influences of adventurous experiences are that both quantitative and qualitative methodologies are each fraught with their own specific problems and their findings are treated with suspicion by different stakeholders. In very general terms, fundraisers and pursestring-holders often demand to see causality or ‘direct links’ (e.g. statistical significance) between programme attendance and personal and social development (see Allison and Pomeroy, 2000; Seaman, 2009). On the other hand, many academics are critical of using quantitative instruments to measure the highly subjective and individual ways in which participants are influenced by a given experience (Allison and Pomeroy, 2000; Barret and Greenaway, 1995; Greig et al., 2007) with difficulties of timing of any ‘measurements’ being perennially problematic (Bechhofer and Paterson, 2000). This debate between approaches to understanding participants’ experiences in adventure education programmes is a large part of the rationale for this enquiry. Although we aim to further the body of empirical research that has been conducted on overseas youth expeditions, we are specifically concerned with developing a way of understanding these experiences that starts to overcome the pitfalls associated with previous research. In order to address these aims, we developed a mixed-methods questionnaire that was initially piloted by participants before and after a ten-week Raleigh International expedition to Costa Rica (Beames and Stott, 2008). Recognising the downfalls of experimental research design we supplemented this work with observations during the expedition. We also focused on what participants reported during and at the end of the expedition rather than after the expedition and the associated aspects of longitudinal work which we consider to be a separate project (see Allison et al., 2011).