The expeditionary learning model (EL Education) grew out of a partnership between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound USA. It emphasises experiential learning, the development of character, thinking skills, and empathy, as well as social and civic responsibility.


EL Education (formerly known as Expeditionary Learning) is an approach to teaching and learning that incorporates project work, experiential and Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL). It emphasises students’ responsibility and agency. Expeditionary schools aim to create learning environments. Teachers there can fulfil their creative aspirations. Students develop not only their academic knowledge, but also social-emotional skills and civic competences.

In expeditionary schools, students take part in projects called “learning expeditions”. They combine experiential and inquisitive learning, individual and group work with elements of entrepreneurial and leadership skill practice. Expeditionary learning can take place in a variety of situations and places. For example, in the countryside and in the city, outdoors and in classrooms, or even in virtual spaces.

the origins of expeditiOnary learning

The expeditionary learning model, or EL Education model, was created in cooperation between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound USA. It is the largest organisation in the United States promoting outdoor education and experiential learning.

For decades, professors and scientists at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have been studying mechanisms of how the human brain learns. They have determined how it develops deep understanding as well as teaching methods that support the development of thinking skills and dispositions. The fascinating fact is that all the theories and methods suggested by researchers have been repeatedly used and tested in classrooms by real teachers. This was possible because of numerous cooperations between Harvard and schools around the world. As a result, the final instructional practices and tools have been improved. They are proved to be working in a variety of educational settings.

Outward Bound USA has its origins in the work of German educator Kurt Hahn. His Outward Bound schools were founded with Lawrence Holt in Great Britain in 1941. According to Hahn, school education should be based on respect to young people. He believed that all children had “an innate decency and moral sense”. However, the society corrupted them as they grew older. He argued that education could prevent this process if students had the opportunity to experience personal leadership and see the results of their own actions. Therefore, in Kurt Hahn’s schools, students were assessed not only in academic areas, but also in areas such as caring and compassion for others, willingness to accept responsibility, and commitment and perseverance in the pursuit of truth. An important element in Hahn’s education was also “Samaritan service”, in which students serve others.

All these values, i.e. empathy, perseverance in the face of difficulties, working for the good of society, critical thinking and moral responsibility, are the foundation of the expeditionary learning method.


*Original source: the article “EL Education: Design Principles”

The Primacy of Self-Discovery

Learning happens best with emotion, challenge and the requisite support. People discover their abilities, values, passions, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. In EL Education schools, students undertake tasks that require perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline, and significant achievement. A teacher’s primary task is to help students overcome their fears and discover they can do more than they think they can.


Empathy and Caring

Learning is fostered best in communities where students’ and teachers’ ideas are respected and where there is mutual trust. Learning groups are small in EL Education schools, with a caring adult looking after the progress and acting as an advocate for each child. Older students mentor younger ones, and students feel physically and emotionally safe.


The Having of Wonderful Ideas

Teaching in EL Education schools fosters curiosity about the world. It creates learning situations that provide something important to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what they observe.


Success and Failure

All students need to be successful if they are to build the confidence and capacity to take risks and meet increasingly difficult challenges. But it is also important for students to learn from their failures. They must persevere when things are hard, and learn to turn disabilities into opportunities.

Collaboration and Competition

Individual development and group development are integrated so that the value of friendship, trust, and group action is clear. Students are encouraged to compete, not against each other, but with their own personal best and with rigorous standards of excellence.

Diversity and Inclusion

Both diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability, and respect for others. In EL Education schools, students investigate and value their different histories and talents. As well as those of other communities and cultures. Schools and learning groups are heterogeneous.

The Responsibility for Learning

Learning is both a personal process of discovery and a social activity. Everyone learns both individually and as part of a group. Every aspect of an EL Education school encourages both children and adults to become increasingly responsible for directing their own personal and collective learning.

The Natural World

A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and teaches the important ideas of recurring cycles and cause and effect. Students learn to become stewards of the earth and of future generations.

Solitude and Reflection

Students and teachers need time alone to explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas. They also need to exchange their reflections with other students and with adults.


Service and Compassion

We are crew, not passengers. Students and teachers are strengthened by acts of consequential service to others, and one of an EL Education school’s primary functions is to prepare students with the attitudes and skills to learn from and be of service.