Neill 2008 Enhancing life effectiveness: The impacts of outdoor education programs/Abstract

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Abstract

Outdoor education offers a promising method for developing life skills, however this field is undermined by ad hoc theory and limited research. This thesis offers a critical synthesises of theoretical and empirical outdoor education literature, develops instrumentation to measure life effectiveness, and reports on a large, longitudinal study of outdoor education program life effectiveness outcomes.

Outdoor education was reviewed as consisting of seven theoretically interactive domains (participant, environment, program, activity, group, instructor, and culture) within a dynamic, experiential milieu. A theoretical systems framework is proposed, drawing on Dewey’s theory of experience, to illustrate how participants’ experiences of outdoor education might be understood as arising within a “complex system”. A critical review of traditional and meta-analytic reviews of empirical outdoor education research indicated small-moderate positive impacts on typically measured outcomes (e.g., self-concept, locus of control, and social skills; ES ~ 0.35). However, this research has been limited by a lack of appropriate dependent measures, low statistical power, over-reliance on inferential statistics, a lack of control and comparison groups, a lack of longitudinal data, and a lack of investigation of independent variables. To address such issues, Study 1 developed new measurement instrumentation and Study 2 conducted a large, longitudinal study.

“Life effectiveness” was proposed to refer to generic life skills which facilitate surviving and thriving across a variety of situations. Life effectiveness skills were further proposed to be enhanceable through intervention. Study 1 investigated the psychometrics of the 11-factor, 64-item Life Effectiveness Questionnaire version G (LEQ-G) through congeneric and confirmatory factor analyses (N = 1,164). Three problematic factors and several weaker items were removed, leading to an 8-factor, 24-item model (LEQ-H) with an excellent fit (TLI = .984; N = 1,892). A global second-order model also provided an excellent fit (TLI = .980), with evidence for factorial invariance of the second-order factor across gender and age, and promising evidence for factorial invariance of the first-order model. Further development of the LEQ was recommended to consider construct validity, other life effectiveness factors, and ongoing item development (e.g., to reduce skewness).

Study 2 involved a large-scale, longitudinal study of outdoor education outcomes. There were moderately positive short-term changes in overall life effectiveness (ESn = 0.47, N = 3,640), and small-moderate long-term changes (ESn = 0.31, N = 663). These results were comparable to the affective outcomes of other educational and psychological training interventions. The largest changes were evident for emotional control, self confidence, social competence, task leadership, and time management.

Study 2 also examined the six naturally-occurring predictors of change, of which program type was the main explanatory variable, mostly due to relatively strong outcomes for challenging programs with young adults. The other independent variables (program length, group gender, group size, participant, and participant age) explained little variance in life effectiveness outcomes. Future investigations are recommended to consider the role of more dynamic predictors (such as personal empowerment, openness, and coping strategies) to better understand and to further develop mechanisms by which outdoor education methodologies enhance life skills.

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