Bringing Challenge Course Activities Into the Classroom: Pedagogical Strengths, Obstacles, and Recommendations


  • David P. Schary Winthrop University
  • Seth E. Jenny Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
  • Geoff S. Morrow Winthrop University
  • Tyler Wozniak



adventure education, experiential education, facilitator, learning experience, outdoor education


The challenge course (CC) is a popular element in experiential education, providing individuals with activities and reflective debriefing that build numerous social and psychological processes. To date, little research shows if CC activities can be successfully implemented in a college classroom setting. Using an introductory course at a U.S. liberal arts university, this study examined the perceived strengths and limitations of a classroom-based CC intervention with intentional follow-up activities throughout the semester. Employing a qualitative, descriptive study design, the class instructors (n = 5) and CC facilitators (n = 9) described their experience in two separate 1-hr focus groups. Three overarching themes emerged from the data: (a) perceived benefits of the intervention, (b) perceived challenges of the intervention, and (c) pedagogical recommendations for future interventions. In addition, several subthemes within each theme were also revealed. Despite noting several obstacles, the participants indicated that CC programs provide a unique learning experience that can be modified for the college classroom. Subscribe to JOREL


Bloom, G. A., Stevens, D. E., & Wickwire, T. L. (2003). Expert coaches’ perceptions of team building. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 15, 129–143.

Carron, A. V., & Hausenblas, H. A. (1998). Group dynamics in sport (2nd ed.). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Eatough, E., Chang, C. H., & Hall, N. (2015). Getting Roped in: Group cohesion, trust, and efficacy following a ropes course intervention, 28(2), 65–89.

Frame, T. R., Cailor, S. M., Gryka, R. J., Chen, A. M., Kiersam, M. E., & Sheppard, L. (2015). Student perceptions of team-based learning vs traditional lecture-based learning. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 79(4), 1–11.

Gibson, D. E. (2004). Role models in career development: New directions for theory and research. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 65(1), 134–156.

Gillis, H. L., & Speelman, E. (2008). Are challenge (ropes) courses an effective tool? A metaanalysis. Journal of Experiential Education, 31, 111–135.

Glass, J. S., & Benshoff, J. M. (2002). Facilitating group cohesion among adolescents through challenge course experiences. Journal of Experiential Education, 25, 268–278.

Gruno, J., & Gibbons, S. L. (2013). Teaching teambuilding in physical education: Fostering communication and cooperation. Physical & Health Education Journal, 74(4), 6–12.

Merriam, S. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Parmelee, D. X., & Hudes, P. (2012). Team-based learning: a relevant strategy in health professionals’ education. Medical Teacher, 34(5), 411–413.

Priest, S. (1986). Redefining outdoor education: A matter of many relationships. Journal of Environmental Education, 17(3), 13–15.

Priest, S., & Gass, M. A. (2005). Effective leadership in adventure programming (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Prouty, D., Panicucci, J., & Collinson, R. (Eds.). (2007). Adventure education: Theory and applications. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Rohnke, K., & Butler, S. (1995). Quicksilver: Adventure games, initiative problems, trust activities and a guide to effective leadership. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.

Rohnke, K., Rogers, D., Wall, J. B., & Tait, C. M. (2007). The complete ropes course manual (4th ed.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.

Schary, D. P., Lewis, A. B., & Cardinal, B. J. (2015). Learning goals and the challenge course experience: An exploratory study. Recreational Sports Journal, 39, 59–68.

Schary, D. P., Wozniak, T., Jenny, S. E., & Morrow, G. S. (2016). Short-and long-term retention of challenge course outcomes: A classroom-based longitudinal study. Recreational Sports Journal, 40(2), 152–164.

Silberman, M. L. (2007). The handbook of experiential learning. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Spink, K. S., & Carron, A. V. (1993). The effects of team building on adherence patterns of female exercise participants. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 14, 78–96.

Thomas, L. (2002). Student retention in higher education: The role of institutional habitus. Journal of Education Policy, 17(4), 423–442.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). Mapping a route toward differentiated instruction. Personalized Learning, 57(1), 12–16.

Wolfe, B. D., & Samdahl, D. M. (2005). Challenging assumptions: Examining fundamental beliefs that shape challenge course programming and research. Journal of Experiential Education, 28, 25–43.

Yancy, A., Siegel, J. M., & McDaniel, K. L. (2002). Role models, ethinic identity, and health-risk behaviors in urban adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 156(1), 55–61.





Regular Papers