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Adventure-based Education and Adventure Racing

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Adventure-based education and Adventure Racing


A fashion fad or an educationally sound learning and teaching technique?


Adventure-based focus


Historically outdoor education, with its variety of definitions and applications, attempted to provide an alternative learning experience to class-based education throughout the world. ‘Outdoor education’ was intended to be more experiential allowing the environment to be a catalyst or an agent in the learning process and the teacher the mediator. There has, however, been a refreshing shift from the traditional form of outdoor education to a more adventure-based type of education.


Adventure-based education was pioneered by Dr Kurt Hahn through Outward Bound Adventure type schools in the United Kingdom and Europe in which outdoor pursuits are used within an experience of genuine (real) but controlled danger. Adventure-based activities could involve a range of activities like, abseiling, canoeing, rock climbing, parachuting, horse riding, cycling, high wire activities, high and low ropes courses, group dynamic and team building activities, raft building, bridge building, survival camps and adventure racing.


The Lilyfontein concept of an adventure-based focus is a curriculum that is based on whole brain theory. The idea is the integration of the cognitive or conscious thinking side of the brain (Frontal cortex) with the emotional or affective side (Mid brain/ limbic area). The frontal cortex is, amongst other things, the area of processing, analysing and purpose selection of information, planning, goal setting, problem solving, decision making, co-operation at intellectual level and this is of course is influenced by the Mid brain/ Limbic area of the brain and its processing of memory, mixing of memories and making sense of the old memory in the new context, moods, attitude, conflict, co-operation at emotional level, anxiety, phobias, sharing, respect, listening, trust, etc. The Adventure-based programmes are run as part of the everyday Life Orientation Learning Outcomes within the school’s curriculum. The intention is to place learners in challenging (real) situations that will help to mediate their learning so that they become more effective, self-regulated learners. Adventure racing is the culmination point of putting these skills to the test.


A Self-regulated learner is described as a learner that systematically directs their thoughts, feelings and actions towards the attainment of their goals. Self-regulation fits well with the notion that learners contribute actively to their own learning and are not passive recipients of information. In other words they are able to think, investigate, solve problems, control emotions and make sense of information or situations for themselves. This is a valuable life-skill.



Lilyfontein’s educational philosophy claims that the rigorous and risk orientated adventure-based type activities, with their contextually real nature, help to develop self-regulated learners. Research conducted at Lilyfontein shows that adventure-based activities equip learners with certain meta-cognitive strategies that will help them to be better problem solvers, to cope better with decision-making and to develop their ability to handle anxiety. This philosophy also give an appreciation of the importance of rules of application or regulations that apply to areas in life that have been put into place to be a more effective and self-disciplines society. Be this on the roads, in an operating theatre, the court room, driving, flying, sport, being a spectator, punctuality, reliability, etc. This can be observed in their improved self-esteem and their more self-confident participation in various activities. The part played by the trained facilitator or mediator using correct facilitation and debriefing techniques is vital in this adventure-based learning process. Our adventure educators have just recently attended training courses conducted by international experts in this field.



The programmes at Lilyfontein have been monitored closely and qualitatively measured. Regular use of these programmes clearly serve to develop and improve learners’ meta-cognitive skills. A meta-cognitive skill is the ability to think about one’s own thinking and make a change in one’s own action without having to be told by another. This kind of thinking would involve such strategies as self-monitoring and self-reflection (thinking about what one is doing, how one is doing this and how do I do better at what I’m doing). This thinking also involves decision making, problem solving and taking responsibility for one’s own actions. These are critical components in the mediation of self-learning that are required by all learners in order to cope in today’s technological explosion.


In learning, culture and language all play a significant part in the construction and regulation of knowledge, skills or values. As learners actively engage in adventure-based activities they integrate their language, cultural values and skills as they collectively work towards attaining their goals. This enables learners to work together and harness their strengths for a common reason.  


Adventure-based education exposes the learner to a range of possibilities in different learning situations and conditions away from the classroom situation. Adventure-based learning seeks to increase the learner’s capacity to operate in the world and attempts to find a balance between the different domains of learning, i.e. academics (cognitive), emotional and people skills (affective) learning and in so doing to become a self-regulated learner.


The learner engaging in adventure-based activities will need to act reflectively to consider the best approach to a situation, analyse and evaluate his/her action and then make the most effective decision in order to carry out the next step. This may well be whilst abseiling, canoeing, rock climbing, etc. This real life (as opposed to simulated or classroom) situation and the high risk nature of adventure-based activities may well serve a strong developmental purpose by addressing many of the elements required to be a self-regulated learner (self-reliance). Such elements include: intra-personal, emotional management or maturity aspects like self-esteem and self-motivation; inter-personal skills like trust, teamwork, relationships or people skills; cognitive issues like deductive and inductive reasoning, problem solving, decision making, planning or goal setting; and other affective aspects like values, attitudes, commitment, emotional development (EQ factor), managing fear and anxiety, etc. All these aspects enable learners to direct their thoughts, feelings and actions (meta-cognitive or being reflective) towards the attainment of their goals.


Research shows that reflective thinking contributes to self-regulated learning.  Further to this, self-regulated learning strategies have been found to be positively correlated with life achievements. One of the intended goals of adventure-based programmes is to develop in learners particular abilities such as positive self-esteem, self-discipline, managing anxiety, self-motivation, team-work or relationship building. This intended goal is achieved through purposeful and challenging activities, guided experience as well as the consequent reflective action by the learners in situations which require problem solving and decision making. The curriculum at Lilyfontein School is designed to facilitate these goals.


One of the serious draw backs that short circuits this valuable learning experience is the misguided intervention of well meaning outside influence by teachers, coaches, parents, friends, etc. Usually this inappropriate intervention “interference” is based on the mind set of winning or success at all costs or perhaps misdirected competitiveness, rather than allowing learning to mediated through mistakes.


Adventure-based learning is rigorous and demanding, requiring above normal skills in self-discipline, perseverance, mental toughness and emotional commitment; certainly a collection of sound learning principles. As Winston Churchill once said, “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required in order to grow”. 


Adventure Racing


Characterizing Adventure Racing with it variety of activities is a varying degree of risk in which participants are faced with the real consequences of good or poor planning, goal setting, decision making, problem solving, managing emotions like fear and anxiety, conflict, reflective and reflexive thinking, self-evaluation and self-monitoring, self-discipline and self-motivation to name a few.


Adventure racing courses and activities are set up by a small team of course designers considering the challenges. The course is not common knowledge and is revealed only at the briefing held before the race. Listening to the instructions and information at the briefing is critical to post briefing planning and organisation and then management of the race requirements and rules on the day by the four team members who are participating. Input, advice, planning, tips need to be done before the start and not during the race.


Requirements of the discipline of adventure racing involve;

·         Race rules

·         Ethics and conduct (honesty) from participants, coaches, managers and parents.

·         Planning, goal setting and co-operation.

·         Application of skills (running, cycling, abseiling, kloofing, bouldering, paddling, obstacles, climbing, swimming, diving)

·         Managing the team dynamics, (decision making, problem solving, conflict resolution, re-thinking and re-planning to change an approach, emotional management)


Adventure racing is essentially NOT a spectator sport but one may (in some venues) find a vantage point to watch but not assist, other than cheer on. This spectator aspect is certainly one of the aspects of Adventure-racing that is being addressed and developed.


However, parents, coaches, friends, spectators, etc need to understand that safety is always placed first in all adventure activities and races. Granted it is not easy to see one’s child, friend or team making an incorrect decision nor is it easy to stand by and watch the mistake play out as we want to “help” but the mistake the team makes is the essence of the learning experience that is reinforced by feeling real consequences. We as on-lookers need to understand this concept and play by the rules as one would in a rugby, cricket, off road biking, 4x4’ing, etc.


It is not written anywhere that life is easy and must always work out the way you want it to; so prepare children for this real life fact in such away that they can deal with life’s curved balls. Adults need to be aware of their own roles and not short cut this learning experience.


It is therefore important that the team or participants do not receive assistance from any one including the marshals on the course.


Dr IW Galbraith

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