The Learning and Transfer of Prosocial Behavior in Adventure Education: Effects of a Treatment Curriculum


  • Nate Furman Green Mountain College
  • Jim Sibthorp University of Utah


The issue of learning transfer is of prime importance to adventure education programs (Gass, 1999). These programs are designed to promote a variety of personal development outcomes for participants, and a substantial amount of research has validated these outcomes (e.g., Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997). However, in order for students to use the learning gained during their course, they must transfer the learning from a backcountry setting to their life post-course.Broadly speaking, learning  transfer  describes  how  learning achieved in one context can be applied in another context  (Santrock, 2001). Literature suggests that three main influences of transfer are characteristics of (a) the student, (b) the training program, and (c) the transfer environment (Baldwin & Ford, 1988). Within each of these influences, there exist a number of specific mechanisms that may affect transfer. Key mechanisms include reflection activities, framing discourse in transfer-positive ways, goal setting, and using an action-plan to set goals for application (Burke & Hutchins, 2007; Cyboran, 2005; Gass, 1999; Foxon, 1994).Expedition behavior (EB) is a learning outcome used in many adventure programs such as the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). EB has been defined as a concern for others, coupled with the willingness to demonstrate this concern (Petzoldt, 1984). This construction of expedition behavior bears a strong resemblance to the construct of prosocial behavior (PSB). Prosocial behaviors are described as behaviors that are primarily aimed at benefiting others (Eisenberg & Fabes,1998; Staub, 1978). These behaviors can be described as sharing, comforting others, donating goods, and helping (Carlo et al., 2007).This purpose of this study is to measure the effects of a treatment curriculum on the learning transfer of prosocial skills following a twoweek long program with NOLS. The treatment curriculum incorporates a number of interventions that are designed to increase transfer, including: (a) a pre-course goal setting worksheet; (b) an intentionally framed positive learning environment discussion; (c) a case-study analysis; (d) creation of an action plan; (e) a journaling exercise;  and  (f)  a  letter home to parents. These interventions may be able to foster transfer of learning.