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Perceptions of Learning Among New and Returning Seasonal Camp Staff

Gwynn M. Powell, Robert D. Bixler, Deborah M. Switzer

Abstract


This study investigated the role of informal and formal learning in pre-service training and on the job among new and returning summer camp staff. Self-perceptions of skills were measured at three different points during summer camp employment. To measure self perceptions, a series of 24 knowledge/skill areas were identified by experts as important to summer camp staff performance. For each of the 24 skillareas,  seasonal summer camp staff (n=211) at six different camps rated how important they perceived each knowledge/skill area was to the camp where they were employed, how important it was to them personally, the difficulty of mastering the knowledge/skill area, and their current ability. Respondents completed a questionnaire before the start of staff training, at the end of pre-service training, and again at one month into their work with campers.

Significant differences were found depending on the status of respondents as either new or returning staff and when measurements were taken. Significant interactions existed between time of measurement and status of staff. Perception of the personal importance of knowledge/skills for returning staff increased over the three measurements, while for new staff, they increased between the start of staff training and the end of staff training with no change at the one-month interval. For the other three variables (importance to camp, difficulty, current ability), returning staff had significantly higher self-perceptions of knowledge/skills, but new staff scores rose across time, converging with returning staff by the third measurement. Given that most formal learning occurs during staff training, the convergence of the self-perceptions of new and returning staff from the end of staff training to one month into working with children provides evidence for the importance and effect of informal learning.

Administrators can use this information in several ways: a framework to target new versus returning staff members, and as a tool for staff training decisions. Results suggest that the efficacy of staff training can be increased by taking into account differences among new and returning staff and by recognizing that informal learning occurs. Providing opportunities for staff to reflect on informal learning has potential to add a powerful component to staff development. Future studies and formative evaluations of staff training should focus on such issues.


Keywords


Staff training, perception of learning, informal learning, socialization, summer camp

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