Wilderness-Based Semester Learning: Understanding the NOLS Experience


  • Jeremy Jostad University of Utah
  • Karen Paisley University of Utah
  • John Gookin National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)


wilderness education, semester, expedition behavior, overlearning


The purpose of this study was to begin to identify what students learn from semester-length wilderness-based courses that they may not learn from shorter courses. Students on semester-length courses from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) were asked to respond to the open ended question: “What did you learn on your semester course that you could not have learned if your course had only been 30 days long?†The responses of 468 students were analyzed individually via constant comparison. Eight themes were generated from the responses and the most prominent theme, “expedition behavior,†was further analyzed via constant comparison and divided into five subthemes. These findings are related to the concept of overlearning and provide insight into the concept of expedition behavior. Due to the limited understanding of learning on wilderness-based semester-length courses, this research  provides a starting point to begin to recognize what students learn on these courses.



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