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The impact of an outdoor adventure program on positive adolescent development: a controlled crossover trial

Abstract

This paper describes a quasi-experimental crossover trial of an outdoor adventure program for Year 9 school students in Australia. Previous studies have reported a range of positive outcomes of outdoor camps and adventure programs, but cautious interpretation of some claims may be warranted due to limitations in research methods. This study examines a purpose-designed, seven-day outdoor adventure program intended to promote positive adjustment in young people. A total of 335 participants (aged 14–16 years) were recruited from across two Victorian secondary schools. In year 1 (2015), students from school A were recruited to the outdoor program while students from school B were recruited to a control group. In the second year (2016) the roles of each school were switched (crossed over). Outcome measures assessed on five occasions included a range of self-reported social and emotional health indicators. While quantitative analyses did not find support for positive, universal effects of our program, qualitative information gathered across the course of the study suggested that the outdoor program may have been both impactful and positive for some students. This complex picture suggests that effects of the outdoor adventure experience were quite variable amongst participants. Reasons for this pattern of findings are discussed, including the possibility that our quantitative measures may have been insensitive to some benefits. Future work should examine salient moderators of the beneficial effects of outdoor adventure experiences.

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Notes

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank staff, parents, and students of participating schools for their support of this research project. We would also like to thank members of OYPRA, and the wider Australian outdoor sector for their ongoing support.

Funding

This work was supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant (LP130100314), which offers matched funding to industry partner contributions. This scheme provides funding through a competitive, peer-reviewed application process. Considerable in-kind and financial support was also provided by members of the OYPRA, including Sport and Recreation Victoria, The Outdoor Education Group, YMCA Victoria, Uniting Church Camping, Outward Bound Australia, the Outdoor Council of Australia, Australian Camps Association, and Operation Newstart Victoria.

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Correspondence to Ian R. Williams.

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Research Team

The Outdoor Youth Programs Research Alliance (OYPRA) is an Australian group established to investigate and document the benefits of outdoor programs for young people. The Alliance was founded in 2009 with the aim of developing a program of research that evaluates the potential benefits of outdoor, camping and nature-based programs on the resilience, learning and wellbeing of young people. The team includes representatives from the outdoor education and recreation industry, the health research sector, government bodies, and not-for-profit community organisations.

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Williams, I.R., Rose, L.M., Raniti, M.B. et al. The impact of an outdoor adventure program on positive adolescent development: a controlled crossover trial. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education 21, 207–236 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42322-018-0015-8

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Keywords

  • Outdoor education
  • Outdoor adventure program
  • Intervention
  • Crossover trial
  • Social and emotional learning
  • Adolescence