is the capacity to be one’s own person, to live one’s life according to individual reasons and motives.

The ASE can give students confidence and time to use the skills learned in the classroom.

Outdoor education programs are often performing in a group setting.Yet, individuals personalities create a highly functioning group. Thus, developing a strong sense of self is important, so that students can fully participate in a direct and meaningful way. Autonomy in an outdoor leadership program (OLP) develops by letting students have independent or solitary OLP experiences. The autonomous student experience (ASE) are trips that give the students more control and choice in terms of the planning and purpose for the trip. As OLP participants take opportunities to face challenges in order to develop personally no matter the time or distance.  Even small-scale experience are very valuable in regards to long-term learning and cultivating a personal identity (Daniel, Bobilya, Kalisch, McAvoy 2014).

How can autonomy be included in an OLP lesson

The ASE needs to still be structured and purposefully planned.

The ASE are opportunities to build wisdom as the ASE requires students to engage in long-term or higher order goals that have personal worth or value. During a solo hike to a nearby peak, a student cannot just give up, the student intrinsically wants to reach the summit.

[ASE]…is a holistic philosophy, engaging participants “intellectually, emotionally, socially, politically, spiritually, and physically in an uncertain environment where the learner may experience success, failure, adventure, and risk-taking (Itin, 1999, p. 93).”

The solo or ASE experiences are inherently rigorous, student still needs to feel the supportive environment of the OLP community and program leaders. The ASE structure must rest nicely between ‘too easy’ and anxiousness. In order for a student to feel successful depends on how much they are in ‘the flow’ realm. In this realm the participant will be intrinsically motivated to exercise self-disciplineself-worth, practice resilience and set up for a growth mindset (Shernoff, Csikszentmihalyi, Schneider & Shernoff, 2003).

Optimal Flow Experience

The scale of the ASE experience depends upon the individual factors. Benefits are had even within an hour of ‘solo’ time to a more extended multi-day backpacking trip. Autonomous activities structured to allow students to develop, practice, fail and then find success are built to help students apply the skills and objectives of an OLP. This non-cognitive skill set ties directly to experiential learning opportunities. The ASE is a valuable and rich experience based component to an OLP. Autonomy-supportive activities should allow the student to understand that they have: (a) choice, (b) know the purpose of the trip and (c) begin and end the trip with a positive perspective (Sheldon, Williams, & Joiner, 2003).

Developing Autonomy during a solo trip: key points to consider

    • Students must feel a balanced level of self-reliance within the knowledge of safety without anxiety
    • OLP leaders must let students plan, prepare and make decisions regarding their solo trip
    • Students are asked to challenge themselves during the trip and find successes during and after
    • Being alone and without certain comforts offered participants the opportunity to discriminate between their needs and wants
    • Within safety limits, have students be responsible for decisions in route setting, camp location and food preparation
    • Have the solo trip participants be brought back into the group and debrief their experience/perceptions

Click on the link below to view the autonomy activities and lesson plan link.  

Each page contains: (a) an overview of the lesson, (b) information, videos and images to share with students, (C) enduring questions and (d) a downloadable file of the full lesson.

 Outdoor Leadership Program Solo Trip Activity