Adventurous learning – inside and outside the classroomApril 2016
MIKE BROWN and SIMON BEAMES discuss their new book, Adventurous Learning: A pedagogy for a changing world, which presents a framework for enhanced learning experiences.
What was the last adventure you had? Did you plan it as part of a holiday or was it something that happened unexpectedly?
The dictionary tells us that an adventure is an ‘unusual, exciting, or daring experience’. Scholars tell us its ‘outcomes cannot be predicted to any great degree’ and that it involves ‘a degree of uncertainty’. Perhaps, most importantly, an adventure is ‘a challenge that will demand the best of our capabilities – physically, mentally, emotionally’.
As we dig deeper we find that meanings of adventure are individually and culturally relative. These multiple meanings may not matter much in our daily conversations, but they have become too vague for educational discussions.
We believe that adventure has a role in learning, particularly in contemporary times that are marked by rapid changes. We live in a time of constantly evolving technology, increasing complexity, global migration, and uncertainty. Contemporary life has been called ‘liquid times’, to reflect the fluid nature of our careers, relationships, and everyday actions.
What does all of this have to do with education, you may ask?
Well, this social world has yielded the neo-liberal, market forces that have in turn shaped educational practices. Teaching and learning has morphed into bits of information being taught and tested, standardised testing is in vogue, and the curriculum narrows. Taken together, these features limit teachers’ capacities to respond to students’ individual needs.
Even adventure education, premised on running counter to ‘mainstream schooling’ has fallen prey to these powerful forces. We see this in outdoor centres that have become ‘McDonaldised’, leading to programmes that are highly prescribed and predictable. In other words, they’re not very adventurous!
What we’ve written points to a paradox: Life is characterised by uncertainty, change, and complexity, yet educational practices are moving in the opposite direction and becoming increasingly predictable, standardised, and rationalised.
So what is the role of adventure in learning?
At its most fundamental level, education needs to equip young people to thrive in a constantly changing world. One way to achieve this is implementing adventurous learning that features uncertainty, agency, authenticity and mastery.
Using uncertainty involves learning pathways and outcomes that are not fully predictable. Tasks need to offer multiple possible courses of action. Such tasks serve to elicit creative responses from students, where they imagine solutions, refine ideas, and put them into practice. Crucially, uncertain situations can only be resolved through deep reasoning and innovation.
Students must have enough agency to influence what is learned and how it is learned. The key is teachers providing appropriate ‘autonomy support’ – just enough for students to have some independence, but not so much that they are powerless. Much of this involves being given the ‘right’ kinds of choices: relevant, not too many, and cognitive (i.e. about learning content, rather than minor logistics).
Authenticity concerns what is ‘real’ and encountered in ordinary life experiences. An obvious starting point is the landscape’s inherent curriculum. One vital educational question that can be asked anywhere is ‘What can be
The final feature is mastery, which is about skill and knowledge. This concept is rooted in discourses of challenge, rather than risk, and draws on theories of ‘self-efficacy’ and ‘flow’. Challenging tasks demand the acquisition of skills and knowledge to make decisions, take responsibility and action. Overcoming challenges requires tenacity, personal investment, and an ability to overcome setbacks.
When viewed collectively, the adventurous learning framework can be used as a tool to help you analyse your own teaching practices and enable meaningful discussions to enrich learning, both inside and outside the classroom.