Facilitating social and personal growth with simple things

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Justification for the proposed chapter Erlebnispädagogik (Epäd) is an educational approach – related to outdoor adventure and experiential education (OAE) – widely used and favoured in Germany and neighbouring countries to promote social and personal growth in informal education. It uses mainly outdoor settings and activities, which pose sometimes extensive demands on equipment, transport, and instructor qualifications. These financial and logistic restraints effectively exclude education contexts, such as in many cases schools and social work both of whom profit immensely from Epäd. In order to overcome this barrier, a research project investigated in 2006/2007 to what degree and effect principles of Epäd could be transported into a regular classroom setting, relying solely on the conditions that were in place (e.g. no financial support, no transport, no sport qualifications of teachers, etc.). The results were astonishingly promising and gave rise to a concept that became known as SimpleThings, i.e. facilitation of team and individual growth processes with (merely) everyday material. This approach has seen a strong rise in recognition over the past years and is now in positive demand in and outside school contexts. Since Epäd does not directly translate into English terminology and prevailing concepts, it is linked to a unique linguistic and cultural context, just like the SimpleThings approach. Its simplicity in means and required effort is in stark contrast to OAE as dominantly practiced in the English speaking world. Therefore, its practical application and evidenced success holds value for formal and informal education on a wide transnational level. Purpose of the chapter The chapter will • Explain the culturally specific educational approach of Epäd in the German speaking countries, by comparing and contrasting it to the concepts of experiential, outdoor and adventure education as employed in the English speaking world. • Summarise the aims, methods and findings of the research project applying epäd. principles in a classroom setting. • Present the SimpleThings approach that generated from this research inquiry, and give evidence of its impact in Germany over the past years. • Discuss its potential uses and value for a transnational dissemination. Methods (involving the writing of the chapter) [I maybe misunderstand what you mean by 'methods', and am happy to make amends if necessary]. • Definitions and semantic distinction of the main concepts (OAE, Epäd, SimpleThings). • Traditional literature review on Epäd, particularly with regard to the school context. • Outline of the SimpleThings approach, its principles and innovativeness. • Summative report of the research project evidencing the success of its classroom-based application. • List of evidence for the impact this approach and study have had on the epäd landscape in Germany, and discussion of the approach's merit in transporting the school curriculum while promoting social and personal skills. • Discussion of potential value and ways of application in other countries and cultural contexts. Outline Innovativeness EP/OAE are widely and internationally accepted as successful forms of educational intervention aiming for social and personal growth in learners. They take place mostly outdoors with often significant demands on special sports equipment and professional qualifications. This poses a financial restraint that many providers in formal and informal education are unable to meet. The SimpleThings approach bridges this gap by using the same underlying principles of EPäd/OAE while utilising the resources available at a given location, indoors and outdoors. This shifts the focus from adrenalin-driven sport activities to cooperative initiatives and 'soft' methods, which has proven to be at least as effective in terms of achieving positive and sustainable growth in social and personal skills – while being easily applicable, resourceful and thereby accessible to all. Conceptual or theoretical framework Epäd in general and SimpleThings in particular is a solution- and resource-oriented educational approach based on constructivist and systemic social philosophy. It implements principles of interactive, multisensory and emotional learning, all of which are supported by neuropsychological and neurophysiological evidence on learning processes and attainment. The PISA assessments and publications by the OECD on 'key competencies' have caused the German school system to focus on building competencies and – preferably transferrable – skills. This has led to priorities shifting from classical curriculum content and attainment to a holistic perspective on human development with the socio-emotional health of well-rounded individuals being recognised as a strong and reliable predictor for personal and societal wellbeing and prosperity. National context In a way, Germany is one of the birth places of OAE with Kurt Hahn (founder of the Outward Bound movement and Erlebnistherapie as precurser to OAE) starting his career and influence here before fleeing to the UK in WWII. With team spirit, and group identity being viciously malused under Hitler, Epäd went through several phases of rejection and reinvention in alternative shapes over the following decades and until now, which has led to a different concept than elsewhere in the world. Also, Germany, Austria and Switzerland have been aware of developments in OAE in English speaking countries, while little has been translated from innovations in the German speaking regions into English. Therefore, an insular context has developed that like the Scandinavian countries is rooted in a cultural and geographical heritage while having much to offer beyond our national boundaries. One example of this is that due to wilderness being scarce in Germany, EPäd can take place indoors or outdoors and uses soft methods such as mindfulness activities just as much as outdoor sports. Evidence • The research project investigating the SimpleThings in the classroom approach was merited with a Phd 'magna cum laude' from the elite Ludwigs-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, for its academic rigor and high degree of practical value. • A considerable demand for and presentation of more detailed publications and training courses for different professions stemmed from it. A whole special edition of the German journal in outdoor adventure education, erleben&lernen, was dedicated to SimpleThings in 2015. • Prof. Werner Michl, one of the leading figures in OAE in German-speaking countries, praised the SimpleThings approach in his key note at the international conference Erleben und Lernen 2014 in Augsburg, and urged for more extensive publications on its theory and practice. • Both main German publishers serving the Epäd community (ZIEL and Ernst-Reinhardt-Verlag) have pressed for books on SimpleThings, one of which is currently being released (Hildmann, 2017) while the other's manuscript is going into print in March. A translation and adaptation of a combined volume into English is planned. • The public teaching authority of Bavaria, Germany, is piloting a training course on EPäd in the classroom and SimpleThings-related methods May 5-7, 2017 at the Centrum für Erlebnispädagogik Volkersberg, with the intention to provide this training to all public school teachers in Bavaria. Transnationalness OAE is booming across the world, yet is still mostly understood to use wilderness and outdoor sports as their main setting and learning media. The SimpleThings approach offers a low key, high impact alternative that could be highly beneficial for less affluent and resourceful providers and contexts of formal as well as informal education on a transnational level.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransnational Perspectives on Innovation in Teaching and Learning Technologies
EditorsEmmanuel Bruno Jean-François
ISBN (Print)9789004366077
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2018


  • experiential education
  • simple things
  • social skills
  • personal skills
  • facilitation
  • learning


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