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Adventure Learning: An Introduction

Ever wonder what it would be like to trek the Arctic tundra with a dogsled team? To interview tribal elders in Africa? To conduct experiments while sailing the Mediterranean Sea? Adventure learning can take you there – not only through narrative description and images, but also through a team of educators and experts, live, as they proceed on these journeys, sharing their experiences along the way.

Adventure learning is an approach to the design of learning environments and activities. Through various projects and activities, students engage in team expeditions focused on virtual travel to new locations and experiences with people from cultures different than their own. All of this takes place while working collaboratively to answer questions and solve problems.

GoNorth! is just one example of an online adventure learning system. Through weekly activities, students check in with and follow an international expeditionary team of scientists (and dogs!) conducting research in the Arctic. In GoNorth: Beringia 2011 the online materials include four modules that consist of: weekly reports from the trail with video, a scrapbook with daily audio clips and a photo journal, themed exploration zones where students can collaborate and exchange ideas, a reading list, a weekly Q & A session in which the team answers questions submitted by students, live module chats, and quizzes. There is a host of related information for students, which helps them participate in the journey and assist the team as they conduct their research.

Theory Behind the Approach

Adventure learning is an approach to the design of instruction, incorporating several learning theories and models.

  • Hybrid learning: a combination of traditional face-to-face and online delivery of instructional materials and interactions.
  • Collaborative learning: team members working together to explore learning materials and construct knowledge.
  • Problem-based learning: learning is achieved through the process of developing solutions to an ill-structured problem (one without a clear cut solution). Learners gather information, analyze the situation, and develop options for resolution.
  • Authentic learning: often described as "learning by doing," students engage in activities that simulate or re-create real-world problems and environments.

Instructors are team members in the context of adventure learning, working and learning along with their students, other experts, and support providers to explore possible solutions to real-world problems. The related conversations and interactions can take place on and off line, asynchronously and synchronously, in a shared learning community setting.

Aaron Doering, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota and a pioneer in adventure learning, developed the Adventure Learning Framework, which consists of nine interdependent principles:

  • Identification of an issue and respective location of exploration
  • Researched curriculum grounded in problem-solving that guides the progression and evolution of the adventure learning
  • Collaboration and interaction opportunities between students and experts, peers, explorers, and content
  • Education that is adventure-based
  • Exploration of the issue, environment, local population, culture, and additional relevant factors that provide authentic narrative for students and teachers to follow
  • Design and utilization of an Internet-driven learning environment for curricular organization, collaboration, and media delivery
  • Enhancement of the curriculum with media and text delivered from the field in a timely manner
  • Synched learning opportunities with the adventure learning curriculum and online learning environment
  • Pedagogical integration guidelines and strategies for the curriculum and online learning environment

Join an Expedition

Adventure learning materials are available online and free to use in classrooms at all levels, although most were originally designed with a K-12 learner in mind. You'll find archived expeditions, events that are in-progress, and plans for future trips. There are full adventure learning systems, such as GoNorth!, as well as other educational interventions that include elements of adventure learning. 

  • Blue Zones identifies regions of the world in which higher percentages of the population are living longer and healthier lives. This project involves the study of lifestyle and health connections with three quests that take learners through locations in Japan, Costa Rica, and Greece. Take a look at Ikaria Quest Day 1 [video] presentation as an introduction. You can also try the four week "challenge" program.
  • Earthducation includes seven expeditions taking place 2011 to 2014. The last update from Expedition 2: Europe was from Norway on September 6, 2011. and Expedition 3: Australia kicks-off in 2012. These expeditions, led by Doering's team, focus on global climate hotspots. They go to these locations to seek answers about the importance of education and how it relates to environmental sustainability.
  • The GoNorth! series centers on environmental and cultural issues faced by Arctic communities. More than 3 million students have gone on virtual expeditions via dogsled, getting live updates from field researchers. GoNorth!: Beringia 2011 ended in May of this year, and there are two 2012 expeditions in the works: GoSouth!: Patagonia, and GoEast!: Mongolia. These programs are also the result of Doering and his adventure learning team. 
  • The JASON Project, led by Dr. Robert Ballard, brings together students and scientists to engage in real-world issues related to the natural world. From the project's Mission Center, you can access the online curriculum, multimedia components, games and simulations, and lesson plans. Live events from the E/V Nautilus, a research ship currently on missions in the Black Sea and Aegean Sea, are scheduled throughout the rest of this year. Monitor a live stream from the ship's webcams as it conducts operations.
  • The World of Wonders Projectfrom the Adventure Learning Foundation, has been sponsoring virtual expeditions since 2000. Review the archives of a United Kingdom expedition in 2010. This project's focus is on diversity of world cultures, acceptance of multiple perspectives, and increased awareness, with a goal of mutual understanding and respect.

Each of the sites above provides a wealth of information, options for interaction, and materials for use in academic courses. Many are also standards-based, mapping modules and activities to state and national K-12 learning outcomes. Take a closer look at one or more to get an idea of all that is available and perhaps generate ideas for implementing adventure learning techniques in your courses.

These opportunities are created through various partnerships that include universities, museums and aquariums, commercial vendors, and organizations such as National Geographic and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Most of the groups that offer adventure learning activities are also non-profit groups that provide the resources to educators at no cost.

If you are interested in more information about adventure learning and Doering's research, several academic articles are available through the Earthducation site as a launching pad for your exploration.

September 12th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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