Mistakes, risk, and learning in outdoor education

  • Samuel Cure
  • Allen HillEmail author
  • Vaughan Cruickshank
Original paper


Within many contemporary social, workplace and sporting contexts, mistakes are often perceived to be negative, resulting in underperformance and something to be avoided. Within education, in contrast, prominent educational researcher Hattie (2012) suggests “mistakes are the essence of learning” (p. 26). For Hattie, the role of mistakes within the learning process needs to be seen as positive. Creating opportunities for students to learn from mistakes through effective feedback is key to raising achievement. Yet in traditional outdoor education, where risky activities are often a central feature, the role of mistakes in the teaching and learning process has seldom been examined. This paper, therefore, explores how secondary outdoor education teachers perceive the notion that mistakes are the essence of learning, and how they view the role that mistakes have in the learning processes in their outdoor education programs. Employing a qualitative approach, the findings of this study emphasise teachers’ beliefs that mistakes are indeed important in the learning process. The inclusion of mistakes and feedback in outdoor education programs is, however, less than clear. Many teachers spoke of constraints such as short duration programs, not knowing students, and risky activities which made it unlikely for mistakes to be welcomed. In contrast one teacher with a yearlong program sought opportunities for students to make mistakes and learn from these through feedback.


Outdoor learning Outdoor education Pedagogy Learning Risk Feedback Mistakes 


  1. Alexander, R. (2008). Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk. York, UK: Dialogos.Google Scholar
  2. Ary, D., Jacobs, L., & Sorensen, C. (2010). Introduction to research in education. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.Google Scholar
  3. Beames, S., & Brown, M. (2016). Adventurous learning. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Berman, D., & Davis-Berman, J. (2005). Positive psychology and outdoor education. The Journal of Experimental Education, 28(1), 17–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21(1), 5–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blenkinsop, S., Telford, J., & Morse, M. (2016). A surprising discovery: Five pedagogical skills outdoor and experiential educators might offer more mainstream educators in this time of change. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 16(4), 346–358. Scholar
  7. Boyes, M. (2012). Historical and contemporary trends in outdoor education. In D. Irwin, J. Straker & A. Hill (Eds.), Outdoor education in Aotearoa New Zealand: A new vision for the 21st century (pp. 38–56). Christchurch: CPIT - Toltech Print.Google Scholar
  8. Brookes, A. (2003a). A critique of neo-Hahnian outdoor education theory. Part two: 'The fundamental attribution error' in contemporary outdoor education discourse. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 3(2), 119–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brookes, A. (2003b). Outdoor education fatalities in Australia 1960-2002. Part 1. Summary of incidents and introduction to fatality analysis. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 7(1), 20–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, M. (2008). Comfort zone: Model or metaphor? Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 12(1), 3–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brown, M. (2009). Reconceptualising outdoor adventure education: Activity in search of an appropriate theory. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 13(2), 3–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown, M. (2010). Transfer: Outdoor adventure education’s Achilles heel? Changing participation as a viable option. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 14(1), 13–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brown, M., & Fraser, D. (2009). Re-evaluating risk and exploring educational alternatives. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 9(1), 61–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carless, D. (2006). Differing perceptions in the feedback process. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 219–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Creswell, J. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Boston: Pearson.Google Scholar
  16. Creswell, J. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  18. Earl, L. M. (2013). Assessment as learning: Using classroom assessment to maximise student learning (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Corwin.Google Scholar
  19. Hahn, K. (1957). Outward bound. New York: World Books.Google Scholar
  20. Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximising impact on learning. Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Hattie, J., Marsh, H., Neill, J., & Richards, G. (1997). Adventure education and outward bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference. Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 43–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hill, A. (2010). Reflections on beliefs and practices from New Zealand outdoor educators: Consistencies and conflicts. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 14(1), 30–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hill, A. (2012). Developing approaches to outdoor education that promote sustainability education. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 16(1), 15–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hill, A., & Brown, M. (2014). Intersections between place, sustainability and transformative outdoor experiences. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 14(3), 217–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Itin, C. M. (1999). Reasserting the philosophy of experiential education as a vehicle for change in the 21st century. The Journal of Experimental Education, 22(2), 91–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kazemi, E. (1998). Discourse that promotes conceptual understanding. Teaching Children Mathematics, 4(7), 410–414.Google Scholar
  28. Killen, R. (2012). Effective teaching strategies: Lessons from research and practice. South Melbourne: Cengage Learning Australia.Google Scholar
  29. Leberman, S., & Martin, A. (2003). Does pushing comfort zones produce peak learning experiences? Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 7(1), 10–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Leighton, J. P. & Gomez, M. C. B. (2017). A pedagogical alliance for trust, wellbeing and the identification of errors for learning and formative assessment. Educational Psychology, 1–26.
  31. Luckner, L., & Nadler, R. (1997). Processing the experience: Strategies to enhance and generalize learning. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt.Google Scholar
  32. Lugg, A. (2004). Outdoor adventure in Australian outdoor education: Is it a case of roast for Christmas dinner? Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 8(1), 4–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Martin, P. (2008). Outdoor education in senior schooling: Clarifying the body of knowledge. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 12(1), 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nicol, R. (2002). Outdoor education: Research topic or universal value. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 2(2), 85–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nuthall, G. (2005). The cultural myths and realities of classroom teaching and learning: A personal journey. Teachers College Record, 107(5), 895–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nuthall, G. (2007). The hidden lives of learners. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.Google Scholar
  37. O'Leary, Z. (2010). The essential guide to doing your research project. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  38. Payne, P., & Wattchow, B. (2008). Slow pedagogy and placing education in post-traditional outdoor education. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 12(1), 25–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sadler, D. R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18(2), 119–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schleppenbach, M., Flevares, L., & Sims, L. (2007). Teachers’ responses to student mistakes in Chinese and US mathematics classrooms. The Elementary School Journal, 108(2), 131–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Silverman, D. (2016). Introducing qualitative research. In D. Silverman (Ed.), Qualitative research (4th ed., pp. 3–14). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  42. Wattchow, B., & Brown, M. (2011). A pedagogy of place: Outdoor education for a changing world. Clayton: Monash University Publishing.Google Scholar
  43. Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.Google Scholar
  44. Zink, R., & Leberman, S. (2003). Risking a debate - redefining risk and risk management. A New Zealand study. New Zealand Journal of Outdoor Education: Ko Tane Mahuta Pupuke, 1(2), 63–76.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Outdoor Education Australia 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tasmanian Department of Education and University of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Ara Institute of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  3. 3.University of TasmaniaLauncestonAustralia

Personalised recommendations