Instructor Effectiveness in Outdoor, Adventure & other Adventure-based Experiential Programs

James Neill
Last updated:
20 Mar 2006


We need to expand the literature on the whos, whats, hows and whys of instructors facilitating adventure-based experiences.  There has been a rapid expansion of literature about the qualities, competencies, and skills that can or should be possessed by instructors of outdoor education programs.  There have also been concerns that in this "competency-driven" age, the more ambiguous "soft skills" of instructing have been left behind.  Large volumes now exist detailing the physical and technical skills required of outdoor education instructors, but there is relatively little on the psychological, social and spiritual qualities that may be desirable.  This article discusses some more subtle, psychodynamic qualities, in particular

  • avoiding self-deceptions, ego-enhancement, dangerous assumptions,

  • developing an understanding of outdoor education theory

  • managing students' experiential tension

The paper alerts instructors to some common psychological pitfalls that reduce instructor effectiveness and discusses ways an instructor can move towards competence in achieving program goals.


To develop such an understanding of learning principles and to be able to facilitate such learning in students is a formidable task which requires not only a well-conducted staff selection process but the delivery of sophisticated training and appropriately guided experience.  This is the primary training responsibility of an outdoor education organization.  However, this is a difficult task in the current environment where outdoor education seems in most countries to be moving towards official qualification of hard-skill competencies for instructors. 

On the promising side, fields such as Adventure Therapy, are using techniques from counseling, social work, and clinical psychology, and are further developing knowledge about effective facilitation techniques and are discussing the necessity of having formal recognition for such skills.  Within the context of such developments, it is paramount that organizationsí staff selection processes are well thought-out and implemented, that trainee staff are assisted to develop insight into themselves and to recognize and avoid the pitfalls of instructing, and that once the technical activity and safety skills are developed, that training focuses on improving instructorsí educational effectiveness.

Reflection Questions

In the light of this section, think about your role as a facilitator of personal development in the outdoors and write:

  1. an assessment of your current competencies,
  2. the pitfalls you are personally likely to face,
  3. how you are going to improve your effectiveness.