Advertising And Web 2.0: Toward An “Adventure Education Model” of Social Media

May 30, 2007

I need to preface this post by admitting that my understanding of adventure education should be considered (less than) entry-level; it is a field grounded in psychology that has been successfully applied to educational theory by many academics and professionals; being neither of those, I do not want to slight the tremendous work these people have done by pretending I’m an expert. Nonetheless, here is my analysis:

Adventure education, at its core, is experiential learning through social interaction. It is centered around games that are meant to require group participation, which in turn can develop leadership, problem-solving, teamwork and other skills. Most models of adventure education can be distilled into three distinct and sequential phases:

  1. The Goal
  2. The Experience
  3. The Debriefing

During the first phase, the goal of the game is established and a minimal amount of instructions are given (as well as safety information for ropes courses). During the experience, the teams do what they can to achieve the goal. The art, and true heart, of adventure education comes during the debriefing phase, wherein a team leader facilitates an in-depth discussion of what happened during the game, usually following a what/so what/now what progression: the facilitator asks for a brief summary of the experience, followed by questions about the significance of that experience, and then takes time on how to apply those lessons (it is critical to note that the facilitator leads this discussion through questions, and rarely offers his or her own opinions unless appropriate, since the aim is to lead a group through a thought-process to their own discoveries).

Many years ago, during a trip in Mexico, a group I was a part of had trouble working together, so the team leader took us through a “sherpa” exercise in a park. We closed our eyes and attempted to follow the leader by moving towards the sound of his intermittent hand claps. During the debriefing, we all voiced the frustrations we experienced during the exercise: some were speeding ahead, while others had lost their way and fell far behind. Eventually the leader mentioned that a couple of people at times momentarily stopped following the claps to search out and group with other team members nearby. As a group we realized we should all have done the same, since the goal of the game was to get safely and quickly to the finish line as a group, not as individuals.

A while later I was part of a club in school that I felt faced similar issues. To facilitate teamwork, a co-leader and I planned a weekend getaway, and one night I had a chance to lead the group through the “sherpa” exercise. During the debriefing, I tried to direct the conversation towards the subject of teamwork, but the participants kept talking about the issue of trust (such as, “I had to trust that you were leading us around the large pine tree, rather than into it”). Afterwards, I was disappointed and felt I failed to get my point across. In retrospect, I did fail to get my point across, but I should have realized the point was not mine to make: I should have taken the group’s point about trust and nurtured that line of thought instead.

With social media, we do not have control over content. As with adventure education, each person and group has their own subjective experience, so that in debriefing the subject matter will be the participant’s own. Similarly, in social media the consumer is in charge of the content, or what I called the “point” in the previous paragraph. We can no longer control the “meaning” of the advertisement anymore, but we may be able to set in place structures that allow us to facilitate and guide that meaning.

So what would an advertising campaign that utilizes the basic principals of adventure education look like? Check this out…


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