A Qualitative Study of the Perceived Significant Life Outcomes of a University Summer Outdoor Education Course


  • Jennifer Wigglesworth Queen's University
  • Paul Heintzman University of Ottawa


There is relatively little research on the life significance of outdoor education (OE) programs and courses. One exception is Daniel's (2003) research on the life significance of a university wilderness expedition. Significant life experience (SLE) research often entails asking participants to remember and describe experiences that have contributed to future decisions about environmental protection (Chawla, 1998). Daniel (2003) and Kellert (1998) asserted that more research should explore the long-term effects of wilderness experiences through retrospective and longitudinal studies. Within OE, there is huge variety in programs; therefore, it is important to distinguish any confounding variables such as participant's prior knowledge and experience, the length of the program and instructor effectiveness (Ewert & Sibthorp, 2009). While Daniel's (2003) research examined the life significance of an outdoor wilderness expedition, few studies have explored the life significance of an OE course. Cachelin et al. (2009) used the SLE framework to study the outcomes of an OE course where the participants were 4th grade students, the course was a half day, and students recalled their experiences shortly after participation in the course. The purpose of the present study, one part of a large study on OE as a SLE, was to investigate the significant life outcomes of a university undergraduate summer OE course upon participants more than 20 years after the course, including the effect of the course upon participants' intrapersonal, interpersonal and environmental relationships. The study examined the life significance of the entire OE course and of its individual components.