Academic Basis for Adventure/Travel Studies

Every once in a while I hear objections to granting academic credits to students on a tour. Some faculty continue to hold students as prisoners of time, calendars and classrooms and don't use the available instructional technology to maximize a student's learning opportunities. Having written this, remember, experiential learning was an accepted practice long before instructional technology became vogue. Having answered these questions many times before, I decided to write a quick Blog on the topic.

How can we offer academic credits for touring?


We are educators first and foremost. We understand that learning is not limited to the classroom. Our students learn by active participation with the people, culture, history, and language of the places we visit. Our educational philosophy is based on experiential learning. Encounter Expedition tours bring creative and fun solutions to the unique challenges presented by a constantly changing tour environment. The result is that our students are engaged, excited and anxiously anticipating the next challenge, all the while involved in critical thinking and developing a thirst for knowledge. This idea pervades every part of every tour. Our instructional methods and strategies are based on Howard Gardener's theory of multiple intelligences, the philosophy of constructivism and the synthesis of transmission, transaction and transformational approaches to learning.

Why is this important?


So many educational tours are nothing more than a series of lectures on a bus. But, we know that students learn best when they are engaged and challenged. In any group a wide variety of learning styles and social skills will be represented, and they each deserve an equal opportunity to shine. Traditional tours are based on Victorian teaching methods that should have been abandoned from the classroom long ago. Our 21st century students deserve better.

How is instruction delivered on tour?

We are educated and trained to be cultural mediators who translate and interpret things, places and events. We …

  • Raise our students' awareness of cultural differences AND similarities
  • Help them deal with cross-cultural challenges AND celebrate successes
  • Prompt and question the students
  • Challenge them with questions and tasks
  • Create context for them
  • Facilitate the involvement of all types of learners and personalities
  • Encourage the students to speculate on outcomes, and discuss and debate issues
  • Employ a thematic approach
  • Utilize instructional technology, such as this Wiki to post research, our Forums for students to collaborate, and our online journals for students to record their experiences.

And much more!


We have developed these skills as the result of extensive research and training which includes understanding how students (all people!) learn and how to manage a group of students. In addition to extensive logistical training, key skills include the ability to:

  • Constructively divide students into separate sub groups,
  • Ask questions and take answers effectively
  • Engage all types of learners and include students with different social skills
  • Empower students to take intellectual risks
  • Create context and relevance
  • Present information in a fun and interesting manner
  • Use themes to make connections to a variety of academic disciplines as well as existing knowledge
  • Prompt students to speculate on outcomes and construct their own scenarios for outcomes

Depending on the tour activities, the outcome of this unique educational approach is that students…

  • Understand the trends, political movements, social conditions and power struggles which led to wars, revolutions and other major historical events, rather than simply hearing that they happened, and not necessarily understanding how or why.
  • Understand WHY they are visiting places and what the connections are to their own experience and their own home, region or country.
  • Understand how and why cultures vary, are different from their own, and at the same time how similar.
  • Understand the application of mathematics in looking at architecture and building design.
  • Understand the application of abstract scientific concepts, such as geological formations, botanical patterns, movement of the oceans, and seasonal changes

In this way, they learn.

How about an example?

  • Students form small collaborative teams and engage in a competitive activity that involves political or social issues.
  • Different types of debates help the students learn about great figures from different places and different time periods.
  • Participating in an activity, such as local dance, festival or ritual teaches students about the local culture.
  • Think, pair, share is used, especially on buses and planes where it's harder to communicate with the entire group.
  • Writing blogs and journals, participating in a forum and producing a digital story of their experiences engage students to reflect on their experiences in creative ways, lets them work with relevant technology, and provides an opportunity to emotionally connect to the material in a deep way.

The list is infinitely long-and always growing. Some of these activities are specified in the pre and post tour sessions, and in our tour workbooks or itineraries, but the vast majority of them happen on tour.

It is our experience with travel studies, our experiences as college instructors, and our specialized training that ensures the learning activities are pedagogically sound. Our past itineraries and tours have never been rejected for academic credit by the colleges our students have petitioned.

Activities are described in the itineraries.


These activities have a variety of different objectives. Many of them, such as cooking class, dancing, and attending a bullfight, allow students to break out of the tourist bubble and really get involved in a place. Much like a student may get a haircut in Beverly Hills or stroll around a supermarket in Mexico City. Students are empowered by these kinds of experiences. They also serve to help appreciate the art of the activity that is at the core of the culture.

Other activities such as debates and role-plays encourage critical thinking and deep understanding of issues.
The activities are designed to complement sightseeing and are often scheduled in the evenings or on the bus during long drives.

Most importantly, they are great fun and add to the experience!

Dr. Michael Thompson

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