Review: Outdoor and Experiential Learning

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Title: Outdoor and Experiential Learning - An holistic and creative approach to Learning
Author: Andy Martin, Dan Franc, and Daniela Zounková
Publisher: Gower
ISBN: 0-566-08628-X
Price: £49.50
Reviewer: Mike Taylor

If you are involved with experiential learning, whether with youngsters or managers, then this book will certainly speak to you, but whether you would find it was good use of £49.50 will depend on what you know already, and the degree of freedom you have to employ some of the approaches they describe. If you work with youngsters in a creative environment I would say it could be a "must buy" - although there may be nothing brand new for you, it does an excellent job of articulating what good learning is all about, and you get a raft of well described exercises to boot.

The book explores the development of experiential learning from the perspective of the Czechs and Slovaks as a result of isolation and culture during the Communist years. Focused on work with young people at "Vacation School Lipnice" and emerging out of Outward Bound, the authors do a thorough job of describing the theory and practice of "Dramaturgy": a unique blend of physical, social and creative exercises woven together with review and reflection.

The book is divided into 3 parts:

Part 1 explores the history and evolution of the approach, along with a description of the learning model. This can be pretty hard going at first, but the model is both credible and useful. It breaks down the different elements of what is going on during the experiential programme process into 5 interrelated threads.

Part 2 goes into the practicalities of setting up and running an experiential event: How to manage the team, the creative process, and the logistics. It uses the dramaturgy model to explore the various threads of the programme during the design phase, but also to explore how to manage the emerging issues and focus of the programme as it runs.

Part 3 outlines 30 exercises, categorized as social, physical, creative, and reflective/emotional. This is a comprehensive section with each game described in terms of resources, purpose, logistics, tips, and modifications.

It should be noted that the book only makes a nod to management development. If you've come to experiential learning for management development from a "corporate/conventional" route, then the book may offer some insights and exciting challenges. But if you've come via the outdoor/creative route, you will perhaps find less to offer.

The authors claim a "uniqueness" of approach, but I would challenge this, having worked in similar ways at a creative outdoor centre in Wales in the 80's. However the book deserves real credit for articulating the approach in a challenging, stimulating, and ultimately practical manner.

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