Adventure Learning: Authentic online learning

Students and teachers gain valuable real-world experiences online.
Students and teachers gain valuable real-world experiences online.

Adventure learning (AL) is a recent framework used for designing and developing online learning. This AL approach engages teachers and students using a blended approach in the delivery of authentic, adventure-based narratives.

The blended, online, and web-delivery approaches to online learning in K-12 classrooms are growing rapidly as teachers and students have increasing access to the internet and teachers are becoming well-versed in the use of web-based technologies. Online learning is here to stay and there is much concern about the quality of distance education design and delivery, with numerous studies offering models for effective technology implementation and integration.

Today, good design and pedagogy mixed with the latest technologies affords many opportunities for learners within and outside the classroom, including motivational approaches such as Adventure Learning.

What is Adventure Learning?

Adventure Learning (AL) is a hybrid distance education approach that gives students opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences within collaborative learning environments. AL lets students explore content by fostering authentic learning experiences within a hybrid online environment; moreover, AL allows learners separated by distance and time to connect with one another while giving them access to resources and opportunities for interaction with the real world.

Within AL, students are posing questions; researching problems with experts and colleagues within their classroom and throughout the world; experiencing the world through numerous media; and ultimately sharing their findings in virtual spaces with peers from around the globe.

In other words, students’ learning processes involve pursuing answers to their own questions while experiencing the world first-hand rather than memorizing rote facts from textbooks.

The AL framework, grounded in 6 years of designing, developing, delivering, and researching AL environments, identifies the following principles of a successful AL program:

(a) the identification of an issue and respective location of exploration
(b) a researched curriculum grounded in problem-solving that guides the progression and evolution of the AL program
(c) collaboration and interaction opportunities between students, experts, peers, explorers, and content
(d) education that is adventure-based
(e) exploration of the issue, environment, local population, culture, and additional relevant factors that provide an authentic narrative for students and teachers to follow
(f) design and utilization of an internet-driven learning environment for curricular organization, collaboration, and media delivery
(g) enhancement of the curriculum with media (photos, video, audio, etc.) and text delivered from the field in a timely manner
(h) synched learning opportunities with the AL curriculum and online learning environment
(i) pedagogical integration guidelines and strategies for the curriculum and online learning environment.

These nine principles are used collectively as a guide for teachers and instructional designers who wish to provide transformative AL opportunities for students within an online distance education experience.

GoNorth! Adventure Learning Series

The GoNorth! Adventure Learning Series is a five-year circumpolar program focusing on assisting K-12 learners to engage in a standards-based curriculum while explorers and educators travel live via dog sleds to the Arctic regions of Canada, Russia, Alaska, Scandinavia, and Greenland.

The project is grounded in a 500-plus page inquiry-driven curriculum that is rewritten annually to focus on the current region of travel, the people of this region, and the environmental issues they are facing. In tandem, the travel experiences and observations of the team are delivered to the online learning environment that classrooms use to hold real-time conversations with international experts, peoples of the native culture, and the team itself.

In addition, teachers and students can interact with the team and with other classrooms via blogs, video feeds, collaboration zones, photographs, and 360-degree QuickTime virtual reality movies.

The program is interdisciplinary and free to use with more than 3 million students from around the world participating annually. AL projects to-date include Arctic Transect 2004 , GoNorth! Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 2006, GoNorth! Chukotka 2007 , GoNorth! Fennoscandia 2008 , GoNorth! Nunavut 2009 , and most recently GoNorth! Greenland 2010 .

GoNorth! Greenland 2010

GoNorth! Greenland 2010 takes users to the northeastern corner of the North American continent, to Greenland, the world’s biggest island – three times the size of Texas. This is the land of the people–Kalaallit Nunaat, as the Kalaalit call their land in the native language of Kalaallisut–a land marked by barren rocky islands, majestic fiords, treeless slopes, and towering glaciers at the ocean’s edge carving icebergs splashing into the Arctic Ocean. 

The giant icecap that covers 85 percent of Greenland is the perpetrator of the many monstrous icebergs that slough off of Greenland and is the largest ice sheet in the Northern Hemisphere. It is to this location scientists flock to drill for ice cores that aid in understanding climate, dating back 400,000 years. Because the icecap leaves only little land to live on, today fewer than 57,000 people live in Greenland, in communities dotted along its coastline. An Inuit people, the ancestors of the Kalaallit walked across the ice on the narrow strait from Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada some 4,500 years ago. Thousands of years ago their means of survival was to harvest the plentiful resources of the ocean–and it still is today.

Setting out to explore the ocean and its resources with the Kalaallit, Team GoNorth! will travel with local Greenlandic hunters and their dog teams across the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean to the most northern communities and down the western coast through Baffin Bay. Then, setting out for the two ice-core drilling stations NEEM and SUMMIT, the Polar Huskies will navigate the 1400-lbs komatik sleds across the deeply-furrowed glacial ice of the ice cap, in places more than 11,000 feet (3,350 m) thick. As the team and virtual users journey to almost the very center of Greenland, they will be traveling in the world’s largest national park in a quest to experience the baffling world of ice core drilling first-hand. Teachers can sign up now at

What’s Next? Adventure Learning 2.0

With millions of students and thousands of teachers using AL on six continents, the critical question often asked at conferences, in online discussion forums, and at speaking engagements is: “How can I create my own adventure learning program?” To bring AL to the masses where teachers can develop their own AL programs, AL 2.0 is being developed. The AL 2.0 framework is positioned at the intersection of principles, practice, and community–the often disregarded juncture of grounded pedagogical models, practical design inquiry, and an authentic context for which the framework will be implemented.

One of the critiques of the AL framework was the belief that AL represents an elitist model of online education made possible only through sizeable funding and considerable development timelines. While this may be the case in large-scale AL projects such as the GoNorth! AL Series, successful and engaging AL programs can take place in your local community over the span of a few days, and even in your own backyard.

Therefore, by rearticulating the original AL framework into a practical model of integration, we encourage teachers and students to embark on their own unique AL experiences. To provide support in this endeavor, the principles of AL have been applied to a practical six-step process for designing and implementing an AL 2.0 project into their classroom. This model is currently in development and will be released soon.

I hope you and your students will join me as Team GoNorth! Travels across Greenland this spring. See you online!
Dr. Aaron Doering is the leading authority on Adventure Learning. He defined and described Adventure Learning first in 2006. Doering is the PI of the GoNorth! Adventure Learning Series which has over 3 millions students annually who participate in the program worldwide. GoNorth! is a collaboration between Learning Technologies in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Minnesota and Nomads Adventure and Education. Doering is also the co-author of Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching, published by Prentice Hall. More info can be found at .

Dr. Charles Miller is a leading and award-winning researcher and designer focused on aesthetics and transforming the online learner experience. Miller has published 16 articles and 3 book chapters, and has showcased his research and designs at more than 40 national and international conference presentations. Miller is a Co-PI and lead designer/researcher on two US Department of Education projects focused on transforming post-secondary American Sign Language online assessment and technology-mediated reading, writing, and language development for K-8 learners. More info can be found at

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