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Outdoor Education Theory

Black Box Theory
of Outdoor Education

James Neill
Last updated:
22 Jun 2004


Black Box Theory of Outdoor Education

What makes outdoor education "work"?  What makes outdoor education "not work"?  What are the critical (or causal) nuts and bolts of outdoor education programs? 

It is unhelpful to clump all aspects of outdoor education into a Black Box that supposedly "just works".  Likewise, its unhelpful to consider all forms of outdoor education as inherently worthless.

The solution is that we need to invest more deeply in analysis of theory and research about outdoor education to try to uncover more of the mystery of the black box.

A theory is a proposed explanation for how a phenomenon operates or functions.  A good theory should make its assumptions clear and lead to testable predictions.  Good theory should also be able to account for the rich and varied reality of different people's experiences.

Weak theories for the potential value of outdoor education are mostly used e.g., "its good for them because life's too easy these days", "no pain, no gain" or "being in nature is wonderful".  Likewise, weak theories against outdoor education are often used e.g., "too expensive", "takes too much time", "not worth the risk", "too hard", etc.  Can we do better?

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