Helping young Australians get real world ready 1800 888 900

Helping young Australians get real world ready
1800 888 900


Experiential Learning is the cornerstone of what The Outdoor Education Group’s programs are built on. The reason for this is to allow students of all ages and abilities to gain insights and skills from getting out there and giving life a go. The Experiential Learning Model enables students to own their learning and reflect on what they’ve experienced to gain the skills required to be highly functional adults.

But what is Experiential Learning and what sort of skills does this model enable students to learn, preparing them for their futures?


Experiential Learning is a cyclical model that begins with an experience - in our case a high ropes course, a challenging rafting trip or even an interpersonal conflict. Within our programs, the student is shown how to step back, observe and reflect on their participation with objectivity - focusing only on the facts of what occurred. Finally, they are encouraged to conceptualise and then experiment with a solution, an application or an approach to a similar experience.

There are a few key elements to providing Experiential Learning opportunities including a guiding approach as opposed to strict rules and instructions.

While many school groups will approach a camp with a specific idea of the facilitation model or learning outcomes required for success, elements of the Experiential Learning Model can be woven into each program to ensure the desired outcomes are met.

The key takeaway is by allowing students to take ownership of their learning, there is a much greater opportunity for engagement. This approach empowers students to take ownership of learning and development for the rest of their lives.


One of the first foundational pieces of groundwork laid with students on camp is the creation of small group values or norms. Instead of a teacher or facilitator assigning a set of overarching rules or expectations on how students will need to conduct themselves throughout the duration of the trip, the students are empowered to set their own uniting group norms.

The norms themselves are simply outcomes or behaviours each student wants to experience or wants to avoid experiencing as part of their time together. They might look something like:

  • I would like to be supported
  • I would like to be free of judgement
  • I would like to be spoken to with kindness
  • I would like to be free of bullying
  • I would like to be listened to

The other fundamental element of the culture these norms help create within each group is, the list of norms may change over time - they are not set in stone. If a norm starts to feel wrong or needs to evolve as the group becomes closer, they can be changed.

This ongoing activity provides the skills necessary to survive in any group in a dynamic environment. It encourages functional accountability and the healthy expression of needs for each individual.


When it comes to empowering young people to learn how to clearly communicate their wants, needs and feelings with others, they first have to learn self-reflection.

While some students will have more natural ability in this area, it is a skill to be practised. In a camp environment, there are ample opportunities for observation and reflection of self, others and the natural world - both of which can be used to derive meaning.

Younger students will require facilitators to front-load and lead through scenarios with questions to help the students build connection between the observation and the concept. For example, if the goal is learning about independence, questions like “What does independence mean to you?” or “When can you remember a time you helped someone else to do something independently?” can help get the cogs turning. For older students, conversations on reflection can be much more led by the students themselves.

As the program progresses, the facilitator would continue adding conversational touch points after each activity to allow each student to reflect on how independence showed up for themselves or others. Learnings made after each touch point are often then drawn upon to apply in the next activity. At the end of the camp, all of these learnings are pulled together to summarise and anticipate how they might be applied to life outside camp.


Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the requirement from schools for students around resilience was mostly focused on physical resilience - aiming to help students to push themselves physically. Since the pandemic however, there has been much more of a focus on how students are able to imbibe change and deal with it.

Since that shift, many students on camps have had recent exposure to lots of environmental change including lockdowns, bushfires, floods and even high volumes of sickness and death of family members brought on by a global pandemic. The meaning of resilience for young people has changed significantly, so much of our program detail is built on helping students process the discomfort associated with change and the ability to cope with it rather than getting stuck.


There is a tool used within the camp environment and it is summarised by the acronym PIES. In essence, it reminds us no-one has the potential to learn if they do not feel Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally and Socially safe. That’s the baseline for approaching activities that broach discomfort or fear.

After that, the learning is about how to approach trying new things, how to combat fear of the unknown and how to expand and push the boundaries on each person’s comfort zone. Sometimes that just looks like having a conversation where we recognise and verbalise feelings of nervousness and we make a decision to try the activity anyway. While the camp application may be nerves about doing an activity at a height, these learnings translate to feeling nervous in life, recognising and acknowledging the feelings and still having a go.

Outdoor education programming can look different depending on a number of factors. Mostly what you see is activity-based education where 75% is actual activity and 25% is processing. Then there is a directional aspect where you're hoping to change or guide some behaviour. Then there's the therapeutic element. Many of the programmes we run are designed to be recreational come educational, but for some students these camp experiences became therapeutic because students feel safe and choose to share their stories.

Manjul Prateeti: General Manager Educational Delivery and Outdoor Education Professional Development


The basis for managing relationships in a camp environment are underpinned by the cultural norms set by students discussed earlier. When conflict does arise, and it must arise so relationships have the opportunity to deepen, these norms give students the language to express needs that haven’t been met or norms that have been broken.

The facilitator’s job is as a mediator to help keep conflict management and resolution healthy and constructive by reminding the parties involved of the norms that were set and to help keep each party accountable to the cultural contract set by the group.

When conflict involves more than 2 people, facilitators will often move through a conflict resolution model like VOMP (Viewpoint, Observation, Moccasins / Empathy, Plan). A model like this allows every person involved to get their point of view heard but not speculate on another’s motivation. Everyone is then given the opportunity to talk about what happened outside of their own perspective. Next it’s all about practising empathy and trying to imagine what happened from the perspective of another person and finally working together on a plan to make sure the same scenario is avoided in future.

These skills can be used time and time again both in a camp setting, but also in life to ensure conflicts are worked through in a functional manner.

The luxury of the camp environment is students have the opportunity to test themselves, create their own learning conditions and form deeper bonds with their educators and peers. If students learn even a little about how to create a space of safety in new environments, develop and maintain healthy relationships and pull meaning from the world around them, it is work they are empowered to do for themselves that will serve them for life.



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