Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




William Rodman




Outward Bound wilderness school uses experiential, adventure-based learning strategies to facilitate personal transformation for its students. While this process has been well-researched from an individualistic, psychology-based perspective, the possible influence of cultural factors has not yet been well-addressed. This ethnography explores the cultural dimensions of transformation at Outward Bound, using a constructivist, narrative-based approach, as well as employing theoretical notions such as: rites of passage, communitas, experiential education, generative education, and 'border intellectual' in the interpretation of the narratives. Selfnarratives were co-constructed with twenty Outward Bound students at three points: before, at the end of, and three months after their courses. The research confirms that transformational learning was accomplished by 18/20 participants, in at least one of eight general areas that emerged from their narratives. A further eight cultural factors were identified which contributed to students' willingness and ability to undertake personal transformation in that environment: a culture of support for success and failure, intrinsic adventure, acceptance of diversity, open communication with others, improved communication with self, a culture of possibility, simplicity, and patience. Alternatives to the rites of passage model for post-industrial society are discussed. The overall learning is that it is possible to improve the likelihood of generating transformational learning, through managing the cultural factors indicated, in the learning environment.

McMaster University Library

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