Experiential Learning

“We do not learn from experience …we learn from reflecting on experience”

– John Dewey


Experiential learning is an effective educational method. It is a process of making a meaning from direct experience. Experiential learning focuses on the comprehensive learning and crowing process for the individual. According to Kurt Hahn’s experiential learning philosophy there is something good in every person and focusing and developing on that good, individual’s personal growth will take place.

Environment on experiential learning programs is very often nature. Programs can include trekking, paddling, sailing or climbing. Different elements and activities are used for supporting the learning process, they should not be the reason to join for the programs. Nowadays even more different art elements, such as music, theatre and drama are used during the courses and some courses are totally based on them. Some Outward Bound centers also run their courses in urban environment.

Instructors in experiential learning programs are trying to provide different challenges which can be faced and overcome and then those will lead to learning and development. Challenges give opportunities for the individual and the whole group to realize and evaluate how they work and operate in different surprising situations. Group is seen as a mirror which reflects and gives feedback for individuals about themselves and their own actions. Using review conversations during the course, instructors are trying to help participants to transfer learning to their normal life. Outward Bound courses provide opportunities for the participants to realize their own boundaries, stretch them, cross them and finding new ways to act. Overcoming the challenges during Outward Bound courses increases one’s readiness to survive also from the challenges in everyday life.

Experiential learning engages the learner at a more personal level by addressing the needs and wants of the individual. Experiential learning requires qualities such as self-initiative and self-evaluation. For experiential learning to be truly effective, it should employ the whole learning wheel, from goal setting, to experimenting and observing, to reviewing, and finally action planning. This complete process allows one to learn new skills, new attitudes or even entirely new ways of thinking.


History and Kurt Hahn


“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, we will be unwilling to settle for less.”

—Kurt Hahn


Kurt Hahn (1886-1974) is known as a founder of modern experiential learning and as a father of Outward Bound. Kurt Hahn was a celebrated and progressive German educator whose innovative educational ideas has survived and flourished for more than sixty years. Hahn’s educational philosophy was a collage of what he considered the best ideas drawn from as many sources as possible. He would rather use material that was already proven to work rather than experiment with something new and he was quite proud that there was nothing new about his schools and their operation. However, his success lay in the selection and unique combination of the principles that he decided to “borrow”. He borrowed some educational theories and ideas for example from Goethe, Platon and Rousseau. Platon’s Republic book influenced Kurt Hahn’s educational philosophy and he believed that society should create the conditions for citizens to find their own potential.

Hahn observed social diseases in society which was not able to support young people positive development. These have been variously described as:

  1. The decline in fitness due to the modern methods of locomotion.
  2. The decline of initiative and enterprise due to the widespread disease of spectatoritis.
  3. The decline of memory and imagination due to the confused restlessness of modern life.
  4. The decline of skill and care due to the weakened tradition of craftsmanship.
  5. The decline of self-discipline due to the ever-present availability of stimulants and tranquilizers.
  6. The decline of compassion due to the unseemly haste with which modern life is conducted.

Hahn believed that education should wake up the ‘hunger for life’ in people. He welcomed strong emotional experiences such as confusion, fear and flush of victory. Experiences were supposed to be loaded with joy of action and finding.

Hahn’s pedagogy consisted from four different elements: physical training, project, expedition and rescue practice. Physical training meant improving one’s bravery, physical fitness and endurance. Project was helping young men to use their imagination, practice their planning and organization skills and also improve craftsmanship skills. During expedition, the goals were to practice initiative, overcoming difficulties and the ability to make decisions. Through the rescue practice Hahn wanted to teach how to evaluate risks and take responsibility from other team members. Hahn’s goal was never to raise individuals who would fit into the society but who would accept their own responsibility to change the faults of their world.

When Nazis rose into power in Germany during World War II Kurt Hahn spoke against Hitler publicly. Hahn believed in liberty. He was imprisoned but after five days he was released when he was able to emigrate to Britain.


The birth of Outward Bound


The birth of today’s Outward Bound began somewhat humbly with the opening of Gordonstoun school in Scotland in the 1930s with only two students. In this school Hahn refined his philosophies into a practical curriculum that rewarded development of physical skills as well as learning to live in the outdoors through an expedition, and embarking upon a hobby or project in addition to achievements in the classroom.

In 1940 Hahn met Jim Hogan, young history teacher, who was interested about youth work and who later served as a warden in a first Outward Bound -school. Together Hahn and Hogan planned educational courses outside the class room which would last for a month. Hahn and Hogan needed a financial support to make their idea work in practice and then they contacted the British shipping baron Sir Lawrence Holt.

The first Outward Bound school was opened in Aberdovey, Wales in 1941 by Kurt Hahn and Lawrence Holt with the support of Blue Funnel Line. This school’s idea was to teach young British sailors the vital survival skills necessary during World War II. The curriculum based mainly on Hahns belief that character development was just as important as academic achievement. Hahn found that people who were put in challenging, adventurous outdoor situations gained confidence, redefined their own perceptions of their personal possibilities, demonstrated compassion, and developed a spirit of camaraderie with their peers. Seamanship skills were also the great was to introduce young men to risk management and risk taking. Holt was the one who named the new school as “Outward Bound”.

From the inception of Outward Bound, community service was an integral part of the program, especially in the areas of sea and mountain rescues and this remains an important part of the training for both staff and students in Outward Bound, Wales. The first Outward Bound program for females was conducted in 1951. Outward Bound has evolved into an organization which teaches interpersonal skills, wilderness survival skills, and leadership skills through considerable adaption of programs and venues to people of all ages and different backgrounds. Programs moved from being solely wilderness based, to also being offered in settings like classrooms and urban centers.

In 1956 was Outward Bound Trust established. The OB Trust is an educational charity and the umbrella body for the separate Outward Bound Trust organizations. Outward Bound International was established in 1997 to support and develop Outward Bound centers’ operation around the world. Today Outward Bound has more than 80 schools all over the world in over 30 different countries.