The Experience of Using Reflective Journals on an Outward Bound Course

Open Access
Eichler, David Franklin
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 16, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Patricia Angelica Cranton, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Patricia Angelica Cranton, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Daniele D Flannery, Committee Member
  • Samuel William Monismith, Committee Member
  • George Richard Vahoviak, Committee Member
  • adventure education
  • Outward Bound
  • journaling
  • experiential education
  • outdoor education
  • reflection
Abstract: The writing literature specifies that cognitive mechanisms are used both in learning to write and also in writing to learn. Numerous studies have documented the positive effects on learning that occur through writing and perpetuating these learnings in the reflective journal. Journals assist in various modes of communication and when used to critically reflect have been instrumental in a variety of learning settings. Reflective journaling research, in the fields of outdoor and adult education is scarce, but when combined with other data mechanisms assist in consciousness-raising and expression. What is notably lacking in the research is how learners actually experience reflective journaling while engaged in their learning. The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological and heuristic study during a North Carolina Outward Bound course was to: 1) explore the lived experience of participants’ personal development through their reflective journals, and 2) explore the lived experience of participants’ social development through their reflective journals. Seven participants, including the researcher, answered daily questions in their reflective journals. In addition, the researcher used interviews, observations and daily evening debriefings as strategies to explore the phenomena of the lived experiences of using reflective journals on their Outward Bound course. The data was further triangulated through a follow-up final position statement and through member-checking. Findings of this study indicated that the participants’ experience of reflective journaling was essential in their learning and Outward Bound experience. In particular, four themes emerged from the reflective journal analysis: 1) introspection, 2) crew cohesiveness, 3) reactions to journaling, and 4) phenomenon of reflective journaling. The reflective journaling experience led participants to express their feelings and become cognizant of personal and social consciousness related to increased levels of humbleness, awarenesses of satisfaction and appreciation, inhibitive self-imposed limits, determination, self-belief and confidence. All participants developed an acceptance and appreciation of the reflective journal and affirmed that their Outward Bound experience was more meaningful because of the journaling experience. Based on these findings, a discussion focusing on implications for theory and practice is presented.