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SA AIA and the essence of Learning Outside the Classroom

Updated: May 3

In South Africa "Learning Outside the Classroom" is a relatively new concept or teminology. Although applied and practised in a myriad of ways, it was only in the last few years that it was clustered under the term "Learning Outside The Classroom" or LOTC. More familiar terms that can be categorised under LOTC in South Africa would be school camps, or school trips, tours, or excursions although in an international context, LOTC is much more than your typical outdoor and adventure disciplines.


Looking at education in new, fresh, and relevant ways has become a necessity. The challenges of social media and technology, the profile of new "incominv" generations (and challenges it brings) have all emphasised a new look at education and learning. Local but more specifically international practise in education has shone the light on holistic and diverse teaching and education approaches other than the traditional "talk and chalk" methods.


  • Finland: Student-centred approach, play-based learning in early years, and strong teacher training.

  • Singapore: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and its use of technology in the classroom.

  • Estonia: Digital textbooks and online learning platforms extensively.

  • Canada: Equity and inclusion, high value on critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

  • New Zealand: Focus on not just academic achievement, but also on social, emotional, and physical well-being.

  • Denmark: Project-based learning, where students learn by working on real-world problems.

  • Netherlands: Innovative curriculum, which emphasises creativity and critical thinking.

  • Israel: Adaptive learning software that can personalise instruction for each student.

  • Australia: Outdoor learning and its use of technology to support differentiated instruction.


A general theme in a number of these innovative approaches is the concept of experiential learning. Traditional classroom learning often focuses on theory and concepts. LOTC and experiential learning bridge this gap by allowing students to apply what they've learned in a real-world setting. This can be through field trips, simulations, projects, or even community service. By "doing", students gain a deeper understanding and see the practical applications of knowledge.


This type of learning can take place in a variety of settings, including:

  1. Field Trips: This classic LOTC activity involves visiting places of relevance to the curriculum. Museums, historical sites, nature centres, zoos, and even working farms can provide students with firsthand experiences that enrich classroom learning.

  2. Community Engagement: LOTC can involve venturing into the community for service-learning projects. Volunteering at local organisations, assisting with environmental cleanups, or participating in cultural events allows students to apply their knowledge and develop social responsibility.

  3. Outdoor Education Programmes: Immersing students in nature through camping trips, wilderness exploration, or adventure programmes fosters environmental awareness, teamwork, problem-solving skills, and resilience.

  4. Project-Based Learning: LOTC can be integrated into project-based learning where students tackle real-world problems. This might involve collaborating with local businesses, conducting community surveys, or creating solutions for environmental challenges.

  5. Online Learning: Virtual field trips, museum tours, and interactive simulations can also be considered LOTC experiences, particularly when they provide immersive and engaging learning opportunities outside the physical classroom.

  6. Cultural Exchange Programmes: These programmes broaden students' horizons by exposing them to different cultures and educational methods. Living with host families, attending schools abroad, and participating in cultural activities fosters global awareness and intercultural understanding.

  7. Guest Speakers: Inviting professionals, community members, or experts into the classroom to share their knowledge and experiences can be a form of LOTC. This brings the real world into the classroom and provides students with diverse perspectives.

  8. Independent Study: Well-structured independent study projects that involve research, exploration beyond the curriculum, or fieldwork can be considered LOTC experiences, especially if they culminate in presentations or sharing the learnings with the class.


There are other examples of LOTC that is practiced in South Africa, but not as prominent as in other countries. One such is "Forest Schools" where learning through play in natural environments is promoted. It focuses on social and emotional development alongside environmental connection. Another example is "School Gardens". It provides opportunities for hands-on learning in science, nutrition, and even social responsibility. "International Exchange Programmes" is another strategy that is intentionally applied and not just left to the one or two that is interested. These immersive experiences broaden students' horizons by exposing them to different cultures and educational methods.


Learning outside the classroom has several benefits for students, including:
  • Increased engagement and motivation

  • Improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills

  • Deeper understanding of concepts

  • Development of social and emotional skills

  • Appreciation for the natural world


Challenges and Considerations:

Accessibility: Ensuring all students have equal access to LOTC experiences can be challenging due to factors like cost, transportation, and student needs.


It is a sad reality that in South Africa, government schools do not always have the privilege to participate in these types of initiatives as it is generally a more expensive approach to education. It is more the old Model C schools, private schools and Home schools that provide these opportunities.


Curriculum Integration: Effectively integrating LOTC activities with classroom learning requires careful planning and curriculum alignment.


In South Africa unfortunately this is happening in a random way, very few of these experiences are intentionally aligned with the curriculum. It is normally all included under the concept of Life Skills or Life Orientation.


Risk Management: Safety is paramount. Educators need to have proper risk assessments and procedures in place for all LOTC experiences.


While LOTC offers valuable experiences, it can sometimes involve physically challenging environments. This is especially true for outdoor adventure programmes. These specialised activities require the expertise of trained professionals who can manage the inherent risks. Regular school educators may not have the specific skills and training necessary to handle these situations effectively.


The physically risky context mentioned normally leads to emotional fear and anxiety for students. Trained facilitators and guides are seldom equipped to address these emotional concerns and ensure a safe and positive learning experience for all. They are normally technical experts, not educationally trained or emotionally skilled.


LOTC is a valuable educational approach with international recognition. By providing enriching and engaging experiences outside the classroom, it equips students with the knowledge, skills, and global perspecitve needed to thrive in the 21st century. It is an approach to education that transcends geographical borders. While specific implementations may vary, the core concept of taking students beyond the classroom walls for enriching learning experiences holds international significance. It is an educational approach that breaks beyond the confines of traditional classrooms. It encompasses a diverse range of activities and places. Outside not only referring to the outdoors. It cannot be limited to only nature programmes, or adventure programmes, or technology, or community. These experiences bridge the gap between theory and practice, fostering deeper understanding and engagement with the curriculum. By exploring museums, volunteering int he community, climbing a mountain, or even participating in virtual tours, LOTC equips students with essential skills like problem-solving, collaboration, and critical thinking, while nurturing a connection with the world around them.


Approximate weight allocated to various LOTC approaches:

The element of physical adventure in the outdoors was investigated in relation to education outcomes as it is a primary learning methodology - this pie chart presents a potential average, of course if presented by an Outdoor and Adventure School, percentages will rise significantly.



A. Guest Speakers (2%): Unless the speaker brings an outdoor or adventure focus (e.g. a mountaineer), it would not contribute directly to Outdoor Adventure Education "OAE" (relating to adventure, no technical competence required).

B. Online Learning (0%): Exluded from OAE as it lacks the physical and social interaction inherent in outdoor and adventure learning (realting to adventure, no technical competence required).

C. Outdoor Education Programmes (65%): This is the core of OAE. These programmes are designed to utilize outdoor and risk environments for learning and development through activities like camping, expeditions, or wilderness exploration (specialised technical and emotional competence required).

D. Community Engagement (8%): While volunteering or community service can involve outdoor elements (e.g., cleanups in parks), it often focuses on social good more than adventure or specific outdoor skills (relating to adventure, possible adventure technical and emotional competence necessary).

E. Cultural Exchange Programmes (5%): These can involve outdoor activities, but the primary focus is cultural immersion, not necessarily on adventure learning (relating to adventure, no technical competence required).

F. Project-Based Learning (10%): While projects can involve outdoor components (e.g., studying local flora/fauna), the focus is on the project itself, and the outdoor aspect might be secondary (relating to adventure, possible technical and emotional competence required).

G. Independent Study (2%): Like project-based learning, independent study might involve an outdoor element, but the focus is on the individual learning objectives, not necessarily on adventure skills (relating to adventure, no technical competence required).

H. Field Trips (8%): Field trips to natural locations like nature reserves, parks, or even farms can provide opportunities for physical activity, connecting with nature emotionally, and fostering scientific curiosity or critical thinking (relating to adventure, possible technical and emotional competence required).


South African Adventure Industry Association (SA AIA) and its members' role in LOTC

This article rightly points out the diverse contexts encompassed by Learning Outside the Classroom (LOTC). While LOTC covers a broad spectrum of educational experiences beyond the classroom, our adventure industry centres on specific engagement. Technical skills and the ability to manage emotions are also crucial aspects in this context. If adventure in the outdoors is not an inherent objective of the application, it is not within the outdoor and adventure domain.


Adventure Guiding involves leading expeditions, hikes, and other outdoor activities, ensuring safety and maximising the learning experience for participants. Adventure Guiding can be incorporated into various contexts, including project-based learning or community service projects etc. However, when the guiding has a specific educational purpose, it transforms into a pedagogical approach and falls under the umbrella of Outdoor Education programmes.


The Outdoor and Adventure Education segment focuses on educational programmes that utilise outdoor and adventure activities to develop essential skills, build confidence, and foster a connection with nature.


SA AIA's role as custodian within LOTC is specifically relevant in the realm of Outdoor and Adventure Education (OAE).


Within SA AIA's sphere of influence, the more precise terminology would be:

  • Outdoor and Adventure Education Programmes (instead of LOTC programmes)

  • Outdoor and Adventure Practitioners or Facilitators (instead of just LOTC facilitators or practitioners)


I believe that when describing Outdoor and Adventure Education practices, by merely noting LOTC as an inclusive term will be incorrect and confusing. Although all approaches are relevant, effective, and significant, in the SA AIA context we are observing a very specific component of this LOTC model.


What are your thoughts on SA AIA's position and role in LOTC in South Africa?


About the Author:

Dr. Pieter Snyman is a founding Director of the SA Adventure Industry Association, a director of the Adventure Institute and an outdoor Centre Head at Extreme Life (UCSA) . Other than managing academic processes at the Adventure Institute, he is also a lecturer at Tshwane University of Technology. His context with the industry is sustained via his role at an outdoor learning site (Extreme Life). His Masters thesis was on Challenge Education as a Leadership Model for tertiary Students and his Doctoral thesis was directed at Adventure Related Experiential Learning where he set out to establish a best-practice model for campsites, facilitators and schools.


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