Master of Arts in Adventure Education

Preparing a new generation of educators and adventure-based entrepreneurs


Master of Arts Adventure Education Faculty are preparing a new generation of educators and adventure-based entrepreneurs through their research and close association with professionals in the field. Adventure educators understand ecological and human systems and can help address some of the challenges facing society today, including health, environmental, social justice, and sustainability issues.

To prepare for their future roles, students self-design course work exploring the philosophical foundations of experiential and adventure education, with particular attention to these areas: 

  • Leadership 
  • Wilderness travel 
  • Safety and risk management 
  • Environmental education 
  • Therapeutic applications and wellness
  • Program administration
  • Expeditionary learning and curricular development

Students create study plans according to their specific interests and backgrounds, emphasizing applied pedagogical concepts, interpersonal communication skills, specialized technical skills, program design, and administration, and/or focus on specific populations, processes, and/or environments. Counseling theories, group facilitation, human growth and development, ecopsychology, and ecotherapy, are approaches used to work with diverse populations and educational/therapeutic contexts.

Students entering the Master of Arts Adventure Education program should have prior experience and skills in an area related to their proposed concentration of study. For example, many students have spent several years wilderness backpacking, mountaineering, technical rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing, working as ropes course facilitators, sailing, etc. Others have taught in the public schools, independent schools, community facilities or international programs. Regardless of starting point, students who are interested in expanding their knowledge with studies in adventure education will find it a rich, dynamic and growing field.

Each student has the opportunity to design a specialization that fits her or his professional needs, the concentrations featured below have crystallized as being central to the department’s mission and vision.

Adventure Education Concentrations

MAP students can use one of these concentrations as a template or create a degree plan unique to their interests.

Concentration examples

  •   Adventure therapy, wilderness therapy, and therapeutic adventure
  •   Curricular development and transformation (e.g., service-learning, social justice, sustainability in education)
  •   Environmental education & outdoor programming
  •   Experiential and transformative education
  •   Integral adventure education
  •   Leadership
  •   Wellness, ecopsychology/ecotherapy, and mind/body based practices

Concentration in adventure therapy, wilderness therapy, and therapeutic adventure

Therapeutic applications of adventure education often are used as complementary healthcare modalities for people wanting growth and development in social and behavioral aspects. Wilderness therapy and other outdoor behavior health (OBH) programs continue to grow. Adventure educators are uniquely qualified to help bridge the clinical aspects of these programs with the skills and nature aspects. MAP students working in therapeutic applications of adventure education prepare themselves to employ adventure-based theories and techniques in nature-based settings. 

Area of focus may be related to wilderness philosophy reflecting ecological elements such as living in the natural world and living in balance and connection with the ecology of place as well as aspects of deep ecology, eco-psychology, rights of passage, and other related perspectives Course work can be outdoor program or practice oriented including history and theory of wilderness and adventure-based therapy, therapeutic facilitation skills, risk management, program evaluation, rites of passage, vision quests and ceremonial use of adventure activities, human development, group dynamics, theories of change, professional ethics, helping relationships, social and lifestyle issues, and trauma and addiction.

The concentration is available at various levels, depending on students’ previous experience and their academic and career goals. For the adventure educator this concentration can enrich the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills in working with the affective needs of individuals and groups and increase employability in a variety of health and wellness, adventure education and adventure therapy settings. For professional psychotherapists this concentration can lead to specialization in adventure-based interventions with clinical populations and to being employable across a range of settings from the educational to the clinical.  The adventure therapy, wilderness therapy, and therapeutic adventure concentration is not a clinical licensure degree path. Sample theses include:

  1. Boyle, D.  Native to place, native to self: an indigenous approach to wilderness therapy
  2. Gath, S. Adventure and therapy: A training guide for adventure facilitators
  3. Gruring, C. The role of adventure therapy in the comprehensive treatment of adolescents who committed sexual abuse: A case study
  4. Hogle, J. Experiential reading: Application of experiential/adventure-based methods to spark interest in reading in high school students
  5. Jacobs, S. A therapeutic adventure-based intervention for alcoholics/addicts and their families

Concentration in curricular development and transformation (e.g., service-learning, social justice, sustainability in education)

Adventure education impacts curriculum reform through service learning, expeditionary learning, sustainability education, social justice education and projects, and political engagement. Students in this concentration learn about curricula, learning theories, curriculum design and implementation, experiential methodology, multicultural issues, and learning outcomes and evaluation. Students often take theory to praxis by designing a curriculum that includes activism, social and ecological literacies, and content and behavior outcomes. Some students come to this concentration with a great deal of practical experience that they merge with theory while other students spend more time learning about curriculum design and practice before adding their contributions to the field.  Students often concentrate in innovative outdoor program design while including the expected areas of organizational values development, teaching progressions, briefing/debriefing, safety and risk management, managing stationary and moving sites, staff hiring, training, supervision, assessment, certification, scheduling, budgeting, insurance, marketing, logistical planning, public policy and access and permitting. Sample theses include:

  1. Hardy, M.  Outdoor programs as student development: outdoor programs at Johns Hopkins University
  2. Henderson, L. Necessary solitude: Solo, gender and personal growth
  3. Hoffman, P.  Adventure program development for a collegiate education
  4. Hollingworth, Frederic H.  Designing an adventure education business that promotes sustainability
  5. Jackson, J.  A new wave of learning: implementing a low-cost adventure program for Oregon accredited alternative high-schools.
  6. Christian, C. Meeting the standards: A study of Prospect Sierra's service-learning program
  7. Budbill, N. Dirt Divas: An examination of an outdoor adventure program's impact on the development of adolescent girls

Concentration in environmental education and outdoor programming

Adventure education is a multi-disciplinary field that includes environmental education as an essential component and adventure educators have a unique role in helping people develop an environmental ethic (See Mitten, D. Under our Noses: The Healing power of nature, Taproot Journal 19(1) 20-26  One of the most popular concentrations, students explore human and environment interrelationships, place-based education, environmental justice, deep ecology, sustainability, ecofeminism, or ecophychology.  With the customization of degree plans, students have opportunities to integrate natural sciences and environmental stewardship into adventure education programs, create nature-based wellness programs based on eco-literacy, or develop curricula for special groups.Environmental education students may work with public or private organizations, charter schools, residential nature centers, adventure-based programs, ecotourism companies, or government agencies, such as the Soil Conservation Association (SCA).  Ecological consciousness and literacy is a must for adventure educators who are in an ideal position for continuous environmental education while living in nature and teaching others toexamine the transactions among humans and between humans and the more-than-human world.  Sample theses include:

  1. Litz, K. Inspiring environmental stewardship: Developing a sense of place, critical thinking skills, and ecoliteracy to establish an environmental ethic of care
  2. Barnett, L.  The benefits of place-based, experiential after-school programs in Charlottesville, Virginia
  3. Beirne, A.  Improving student learning and environmental responsibility: a case for constructivist/experiential, adventure-based environmental education
  4. Burrow, C.  Integrating science and spirituality: a unified approach to environmental education
  5. Caddell, J.  EarthMatters: Environmental studies as physical education
  6. Cook, L. Developing a sense of place: Examining educator practice in place-based education
  7. Doucet, D.  All the world, more than a stage: fostering connection to the land through place-based adventure education.
  8. Glinert, A. Teaching placed-based environmental education to English language learners
  9. Jannone, D.  Use of the outdoors and environmental education by formal educators in the Prescott Bioregion

Concentration in experiential and transformative education

Adventure education is under the umbrella of experiential education. Educators using the philosophy of experiential education learn how to construct meaningful learning experiences grounded in reflection, application and practice. These endeavors involve problem solving, teamwork, decision making, resolving conflicts, and reaching for new goals and opportunities. Brain-based research supports experiential education philosophy.  Students in this concentration examine the roots of experiential education as well as Dewey’s goals of ethical development, social justice, and preparing students to be active citizens in a democracy while avoiding mis-educative experiences.  Students explore the philosophical, psychological, and educational foundations, and learn to apply experiential education in a wide array of educational settings, including adventure education trips, expeditionary learning schools, ropes courses, adventure therapy venues, environmental and outdoor education, ecotourism, camps, and traditional educational settings. Curricula development, facilitating, and teaching are job outcomes.  Sample theses include:

  1. Biesiada, J.  Extra-curricular experiential education programming: one model for the traditional school setting
  2. Bigknife A. Creating an indigenous experiential learning model
  3. Deloreto, C.  The brain, learning, and experiential education: a community learning center business plan
  4. Dorman, E.  On belay in the classroom: Teacher preparation reform in an expeditionary learning school
  5. Dingman, J.  Skyscrapers and mountains: urban youth, expeditionary learning and the natural world connection
  6. Fraser, S.  Toward a holistic college educative experience: a cross-cultural approach using adventure and reflection at a community college
  7. Johann, C.  Empowering middle and high school students towards personal and social responsibility through experiential education practices
  8. Kinnart, A.  Adolescent identity formation, impetus for educational reform: an investigation of the expeditionary learning model
  9. Krusi-Thom, A.  Perceptions of academic rigor in fieldwork at Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy

Concentration in integral adventure education

An integral approach to adventure education seeks to bring the broadest range of perspectives, intentions, and strategies to the transformational learning potential of adventure experiences.  Most adventure education practitioners embrace and are advocates of a multi-dimensional, multi-perspective, and transdisciplinary approach to adventure education, which may be labeled integral adventure education.  Using an integral approach complements diverse ways of looking at adventure, experiential, and environmental education in accordance with the audience and the lens through which educators view the process. Each adventure encounter or connection has multiple levels of interpretation that help identify the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, social and environmental components to provide a more holistic, integrative, transformative, and transmodernist understanding of its potential value. 

Adventure experiences provide a practice grounded in a reflective context in which to explore the four dimensions of human experience—the individual or collective, the internal or the external—to more effectively address issues and needs through programs or approaches that support integral sustainable developmental structures.  

Sample theses include:

  1. Peterson, M.  The Linked Model: enhancing educator's practice of adult education learning
  2. Potter, C. Spiritual growth through adventure education
  3. Jospe, M.  Transformational learning: unveiling the soul-based learning model
  4. Fields, J. The embodied living cycle: Psychospiritual development through presence, guidance, service and trust
  5. Crotty, C. Sustainable leadership : the theory and practice of applied ecopsychology
  6. DeArmon, S.  Fundamental foundations: ecopsychological learning approach

Concentration in leadership

Leadership is a dynamic process necessary for successful adventure education. Relational leadership is necessary for creating a positive learning environment and sustainable community development. Leadership, including judgment and decision making is a cornerstone for adventure education. We offer participants learning opportunities that give them the skills to return home and contribute to forming and maintaining sustainable communities. In this concentration students can examine some or many components of leadership, including technical and activity skills, teaching and modeling skills, group process skills, and decision-making and judgment skills. Students can connect theory to praxis exploring the human dimensions of leadership, challenge, risk, stress, issues of power and control, conscious choice, gender issues, diversity considerations, feminist leadership, healthy group cohesion, and ethics. Specific leadership applications can be explored such as leadership training and development or nature-based/wilderness leadership and artistic expression. Graduates often work at colleges and universities, outdoor programs, or expeditionary learning schools; many graduates direct their own programs. Sample completed theses include:

  1. Alberi, S. Leadership in non-traditional environments: The foundation for developing women leaders
  2. Christensen, M.  University training and orientation programs: adventure staff training and orientation guidelines
  3. DeMartin, J.  No time to waste: teaching ecological leadership during a short outdoor adventure course
  4. Dyck, C.  Canadian Institute for Outdoor Leadership Backpacking Guide core curriculum
  5. Chapman, J.   Stress appraisal during challenge course activities    
  6. Isom, J. Is technology sabotaging the adolescent's journey to creating healthy community? 
  7. Frank, D. Reducing stress in adolescent girls through Outdoor Experiential Education
  8. Jackson, M. Empowering Women of Nepal: An experience of empowerment in the land of the Himalaya
  9. Mitchell, M.  A critical examination of the content of wilderness leadership curricula

Concentration in wellness, ecopsychology/ecotherapy, and mind/body based practice

Adventure educators impact individual, group and societal wellness from many angles. Currently, there are a range of preventive approaches available to adventure educators that can maintain and improve wellness. Adventure education can help people lower their health risk factors, which are the number one cause of rising health care. Wider use of adventure education programming can help prevent the negative influences that without intervention might later lead to clients needing rehabilitative programs. This concentration focuses on helping adventure educators develop a mind set and practices that help people develop a wellness consciousness and understand through experience the value of health. It also gives practitioners tools to help people with the change process, in order to heal and move towards wellness. Students gain an understand of the socio-ecological approach to human health, dimensions of wellness (emotional, spiritual, physical, social, intellectual, environmental, and occupational), stress mastery, indigenous consciousness, psychoevolutionary theory, and the healing impact of nature. Course work in nature related areas may include the healing power of nature, nature therapy, indigenous nature knowledge, ecotherapy, brain-based learning in nature, nature’s impact on childhood development, earth based healing practices, and animal assisted learning is common. Students may integrate yoga, Thai Chi, Chi Gong, Mindfulness, or other mind/body practices into their adventure education practice.  Other theories such as naturalistic intelligence, biophilia, spiritual connections, the ethic of care and other concepts that are more manifestations of a mutual ecological dependence such as friluftsliv, traditional ecological knowledge, the land ethic, ecofeminism, ecopsychology are often studied. Theses samples include:

  1. Comstock, R. (2006). Meta earth yoga: contemplative ecological practices for a sustainable future.
  2. Woodruff, S. The impact of short-term adventure experiences on the body image of women over forty
  3. Padia, P. After-school sports programs' effect on at-risk youth
  4. Palmer, S.  Psychosocial development and college-sponsored adventure programs
  5. Estrellas, A. Understanding sexual trauma: A rationale and training manual for the experiential educator
Bookmark and Share