A Guide to
Outward Bound programs are diverse and use a complex combination of experiential learning activities. This makes Outward Bound a challenging topic for research investigation. There have been a number of interesting research efforts over the years, however the field is characterized by a lack of overall synthesis and direction.
One could argue that research was part of Outward Bound from its beginning. In the 1940’s, Lawrence Holt, head of the Blue Funnel shipping line told Kurt Hahn that the survival rates of young merchant navy men was poor compared to older men in life boat situations. Hahn then shared his theory that the young men had been ill-prepared because modern life lacked exposure of young people to real-life challenges.
Holt and Hahn devised “Outward Bound” a 4-week intensive program based on the principles of Kurt Hahn’s County Badge scheme. These first Outward Bound courses improved the survival rates of the young sailors, giving empirical support for spreading Outward Bound theory and programs. Despite the dramatic life-death nature of the outcomes from the first Outward Bound courses, the original data is not known to be publicly reported anywhere, leaving the original evidence about the efficacy of Outward Bound shrouded somewhat in mystery.
During the rest of the 1940s and the 1950s, little other Outward Bound research was conducted. The first major Outward Bound research study of substance was Basil Fletcher’s follow up interviews with thousands of Outward Bound alumni in the UK. Fletcher (1970, 1971) reported:
Despite the exhaustive followup surveys, Fletcher nevertheless found the UK Outward Bound programs wanting in measurable effects.
Another notable early study was by William Keay (1970), an instructor at Outward Bound New Zealand. Keay's pilot study on the effects of OBNZ courses on personality variables (using Cattell's 16 PF) in a pre-post design with a control group, was reported in the Outward Bound UK Trust newsletter, Strive. Keay explained the Outward Bound research problem as follows:
Perhaps the best cited early Outward Bound studies were the studies by Kelly and Baer on the effects of Outward Bound on delinquent boys. Kelly and Baer (US) in the mid-1960's to mid-1970's conducted the first major research studied into the effect of Outward Bound programs with delinquent youth, reporting positive, long-term benefits (Kelly, 1974; Kelly & Baer, 1968). These studies provided a significant boost to Outward Bound programming for youth at risk and helped to spawn the emergence and legitimization of adventure therapy.
Despite the early studies by Fletcher (UK), Keay (NZ), and Kelly and Baer (US), it was arguably the Colorado Outward Bound School (COBS, USA) from the mid-1960's to mid-1980's which pioneered the first substantial ongoing Outward Bound research and theory program, lead particularly through the efforts of Thomas James and Stephen Barcia Bacon. The COBS research and theory efforts were independent, but supported by the developing experiential education movement in the US. In the early 1970s, the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) was formed and with it, the first major journal in this field, the Journal of Experiential Education was begun. OB USA Inc appointed a national research director in the 1980's-1990's, but most USA OB was, and continues to be, generated at the individual school-level.
In the mid-1970's, Outward Bound Australia (OBA) begun its formidable 20-year research program under the leadership of Garry Richards. For example, Marsh, Richards and Barnes (1986a,b) studied of the effects of standard Outward Bound Australia programs on multidimensional self-concepts. The positive results were notable because:
(If a reference you are looking for is not listed below, try this larger list of outdoor education research references)
Bacon, S. B. (1988). The effects of racially homogeneous and heterogeneous Outward Bound groups on the self-report survey scores and drop out rates of minority students. Greenwich, CT: Outward Bound USA.
Berman, D. S., & Davis-Berman, J. (1995) Outdoor education and troubled youth. ERIC Digest ED385425.
Hattie, J. A., Marsh, H. W., Neill, J. T., & Richards, G. E. (1997). Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference. Review of Educational Research, 67, 43-87.
Katz, R., & Kolb, D. (1968). Outward Bound and education for personal growth. In: F. J. Kelly and D. J. Baer (Eds.) Outward Bound Schools as an Alternative to Institutionalization for Adolescent Delinquent Boys. Greenwich, CT.: Outward Bound Inc. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. [.pdf; 2.7MB]
Marsh, H. W., Richards, G. E., & Barnes, J. (1986a). Multidimensional self-concepts: The effect of participation in an Outward Bound Program. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 195-204.
Marsh, H. W., Richards, G. E., & Barnes, J. (1986b). Multidimensional self-concepts: A long term follow-up of the effect of participation in an Outward Bound program. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 12, 475-492.
Martin, A. J. (2001). Towards the next generation of experiential education programmes: A case study of Outward Bound. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand. Full thesis [1.2MB; .pdf]. Appendices [.4MB; .pdf].
Martin, A., & Legg, S. (2002). Investigating the inward sounds of Outward Bound [New Zealand]. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 6(2), 27-36.
McKenzie, M. D. (2000). Gaining a better understanding of how Outward Bound Western Canada course outcomes are achieved: A research study. Unpublished master's thesis, Brock University, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada. Abstract. Thesis. (.4 MB)
McKenzie, M. D. (2000). How are adventure education program outcomes achieved? A review of the literature. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 5(1), 19-28.
McKenzie, M. D. (2003). Beyond the Outward Bound process: Rethinking student learning. Journal of Experiential Education, 26(1), 8-23.[html]
Paxton, T., & McAvoy, L. (2000). Social psychological benefits of a wilderness adventure program. USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL3. [pdf]
Tan, M. (2005). Examining the impact of an Outward Bound Singapore program on the life effectiveness of adolescents. Unpublished master's thesis, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH.