Maximizing Outdoor Experiential Training and Development Programs (Part I) By Michael R. Smith

It is not uncommon for clients and business managers to be swept away by the novelty of outdoor experiential training and development programs. This often leads to misuse, failed expectations, and worse yet, training that is left in the training room. The problem says Nancy Gansneder—University of Virginia professor and board member of the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE)—is that “people who have a much shorter view tend to want that one-day romp in the park to affect how a team is going to work together. That’s not going to happen. We have to invest an awful lot of time in it, and the payoff is down the road.” (Schetter, 2002). Research conducted by Priest and Lesperance support these finding and suggest that any team improvements made by an OTD program may be lost after six months without support in the form of follow-up procedures including team meetings, socialization events, coaching sub-teams, refresher training, and self-facilitation (1994).

As many providers will tell you, educating the customer is the first step to helping create any training that involves an outdoor component. Utilizing outdoor experiential training effectively requires being an informed cuonsumer, practicing good instructional design, and knowing how to select an appropriate provider.

Being an Informed Customer

Many of the common misuses of Outdoor Training and Development stem from misinformation provided by vendors and a lack of an educated consumer base. Information regarding the benefits, theory and methodology surrounding the field are often overshadowed by glossy color photos of novel acts that at best project an eschewed portrait of the nature and benefits of the learning vehicles.

What is Outdoor Experiential Training and Development

Outdoor Experiential Training and Development can be defined as the purposeful use of outdoor-based active learning opportunities to enhance organizational change through personnel learning (Current Terminology & Methodology). Such programs can be found under a variety of different headings depending on the location of the program.

Common Names for Outdoor Training and Development Programs

United States


  • Experience-based Training and Development (EBTD), (Miner, 1991)
  • Outdoor Experiential Training, (Laabs, 1991; Tarullo, 1992, Barker, 1995; White, 1995)
  • Outdoor Based Experiential Training, (Wagner and Campbell, 1994)
  • Outdoor Development, (Burnett and James, 1994)
  • Outdoor Management Development, (Holden, 1994; Ibbetson and Newell, 1999)
  • Adventure Education, (Miles and Priest, 1993)
  • Adventure-Based Learning, (Callard and Thompson, 1992)
  • Executive Challenge, (Tarullo, 1992)
  • Outdoor Challenge Training, (Baldwin, Wagner, & Rolland, 1991)
  • Adventure Education, Adventure Challenge, Corporate Challenge Programs, (web references)

New Zealand, United Kingdom


  • Outdoor Management Development (OMD), (Ibbetson and Newell, 1999)

Australia and Canada


  • Corporate Adventure Training (CAT), (Priest and Lesperance, 1994)

Building off the Gass, Goldman, and Priest model of EBTD (closely related to OTD), and as referenced by the Project Challenge website (, 2004), OTD (EBTD) has six components that separate it from traditional learning.


  1. OTD is experiential: while working under hands-on conditions, people learn best by doing.
  2. OTD is dramatic: the excitement and emotional aspect of these activities focus attention and sharpen minds. People remember what they learn.
  3. OTD is novel: because of the unique context and uncertainty of outcome for these activites, no one is considered to be an expert. Adventures tend to equalize people and break the hierarchical barriers and apprehensions that often exist in large organizations.
  4. OTD is consequential: errors have potential ramifications in adventures (getting wet in a canoe or falling of a rope), unlike in a classroom simulation (where play money is lost). Furthermore, success and failure is supported by those who really matter (coworkers and oneself).
  5. OTD is metaphoric: adventures are a microcosm of the requirements needed for and changes taking place in the work world. Behaviors demonstrated by individuals and groups during these activities are parallel representations of the way they act and what happens in the office. As such, new learning (skills, coping strategies, and bonding among personnel) can be analogously applied toward future efforts on the job.
  6. OTD is transferable: testimonials by past participants support the utility of experience-based training, and limited research studies substantiate that new learning does show up in the workplace. People refer back to their experiences and approach their tasks from a fresh perspective.

continued on next page (part II)

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