Expeditionary Learning

Expeditionary learning is a learning philosophy based on the notion that learning is most effective when done within the context of its application, and through a series of hands-on, self-directed, experiments and experiences.

I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion.

– Kurt Hahn

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Resource List


Think about the following questions in regards to the principles above and practices below:

  • How do they apply to your learning?
  • What does it look like in the field?

Core Practices:

  • Curriculum
    • Curriculum is created in conjunction with the participants and experts in field.
    • Modules are used to guide you through what types of experiences you should be having and what non-cognitive skills you may need to successfully navigate your experience.
    • “Our approach to curriculum makes standards come alive for students by
      connecting learning to real-world issues and needs. Academically rigorous learning expeditions, case studies, projects, fieldwork, and service learning inspire students to think and work as professionals do, contributing high- quality work to authentic audiences beyond the classroom. Our schools ensure that all students have access to a rigorous college preparatory curriculum, and regularly analyze the curriculum to check alignment to standards and opportunities for all students to meet those standards.”
  • Instruction
    • Instruction is greatly expeditionary and guided by the participant
    • Developed around goals
    • Our classrooms are alive with discovery, inquiry, critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. Teachers talk less. Students talk and think more. Lessons have explicit purpose, guided by learning targets for which students take ownership and responsibility. In all subject areas, teachers differentiate instruction and maintain high expectations in order to bring out the best in all students and cultivate a culture of high achievement.
  • Assessment
    • (discussed below)
    • “Our leaders, teachers, and students embrace the power of student-engaged assessment practices to build student ownership of learning, focus students on reaching standards-based learning targets, and drive achievement. is approach to assessment is key to ensuring that schools achieve educational equity. Students continually assess and improve the quality of their work through the use of models, reflection, critique, rubrics, and work with experts. Sta members engage in ongoing data inquiry and analysis, examining everything from patterns in student work to results from formal assessments, disaggregating data by groups of students to recognize and address gaps in achievement.”
  • Culture and Character
    • Our schools build cultures of respect, responsibility, courage, and kindness,
      where students and adults are committed to quality work and citizenship. School structures and traditions such as crew, community meetings, exhibitions of student work, and service learning ensure that every student is known and cared for, that student leadership is nurtured, and that contributions to the school and world are celebrated. Students and staff are supported to do better work and be better people than they thought possible.
  • What is effective leadership?
    • “Our school leaders build a cohesive school vision focused on student achievement and continuous improvement, and they align all activities in the school to that vision. Leaders use data wisely, boldly shape school structures to best meet student needs, celebrate joy in learning, and build a school-wide culture of trust and collaboration. Leadership in our schools goes beyond a single person or team-it is a role and expectation for all.”

Expeditionary Learning at HSx: Rethinking Expeditionary Learning for the Adult Learner:

How to Begin:

Reflect on what you want out of this degree (beyond basic notions of “a master’s degree” or “more money” or “more knowledge”). How do you want to apply what you learn here? Then develop clear goals around that desired outcome. EXAMPLE?. Then list action steps as to how you would achieve those goals. List the players within the plan. What is their role? How can they help or hinder? What resources do you need? What skills do you need? Where will you get them? Don’t worry, you don’t need to know all you will need to work on or want to get out of it…some of it will come organically, that is the nature of EL> How do you want to be assessed? How often? Remember, you will work with others on this.

How you can utilize the practices and foundations of EL to guide your own program?

How can we minimize time lost or lack of productivity, or even mistakes, due to expeditionary learning in the workplace/educational system:

It’s easier said, than done, allowing for an expeditionary learning experience. It takes time, effort, and there is a risk of low-productivity, mistakes, confusion, or discontent in the beginning. However, it has been shown, in the long run, that this is how people learn best, particularly with content that is applicable to tasks.

  • Make learning part of the process of work
  • Utilize times to discuss mistakes as a whole department/workplace, and how to learn from them.
  • Stagger individuals working on expeditionary learning in the workplace so that some people are working on established tasks and others are working on new ideas and solutions, this can reduce low-productivity surrounding necessary work.
  • Have flow charts and resources available to people when in need of existing supports (where should I go if I have a question about x, y, or z?).
  • Value the notion that time spent learning, and sometimes making mistakes, is valuable and worthwhile.
  • Check-in frequently with employees, colleagues, etc, about their learning and how it can be applied. Be intentional about it.
  • When people make mistakes, normalize it and encourage it, emphasizing feedback and reflection as key takeaways.

How your learning will be assessed:

“The learning expedition draws to a close with product creation, synthesis and reflection, and a culminating event that celebrates learning.”

  • Designing Projects and Products
    • What kinds of projects or products do you hope to create?
      • Look at the needs, are they for school, job, family, new business, professional?
      • Types of projects:
        • Curriculum/modules
        • Business models
        • Plans/next steps for addressing DHS needs
        • Studies
    • Who do you need to connect with in order to create a meaningful project?
      • Experts
      • Business owners
      • DHS
      • Law enforcement
    • What will convey your ability and expertise?
      • What would you want to convey to clients?
      • What is expected of you by others?
    • What will facilitate the most learning?
      • Where are your weak points? What can be developed further?
  • Assessing yourself
    • How to assess yourself (see emotional intelligence module)
      • Reflection journals
      • Being honest with yourself
      • Assessments online
    • Ways to keep track of your assessments
      • Keep track of your assessments and compare them periodically to see your progress
      • Have them in a notebook
      • Keep them online
  • Seeking feedback
    • From whom to seek feedback
      • Public
      • DHS
      • Law Enforcement
      • Business owners
    • What kind of feedback is most useful
      • Applicability to work
      • Gives insight into your knowledge or lack thereof
      • Feasibility of product/plan
    • What to do with feedback
      • Make sure feedback is direct and specific
        • What can be done differently? What works, what doesn’t?
        • What is the evidence they have for saying something works or does not?
      • Modify existing product or plans
      • Reflect on yourself, your learning, and your purpose
      • Compare your feedback to those of your peers (participants) and see if you are receiving similar criticism and praise in order to gauge where you are in the process
    • When to elicit feedback? How often? Recurring?
      • You can elicit feedback throughout the process from your peers in the program, supervisors in the program, and those close to you
      • Seek periodic feedback about specific tasks or products from experts, mentors, and clients
      • Online surveys, direct feedback by conference, and suggestions
  • Role of your supervisor/advisor
    • Feedback
    • Guiding/mentoring
    • Evaluating
  • Role of your peers
    • Peer review
      • How can you elicit this on your own?
      • Think of individuals with opinions that you trust. Why do you trust them? Will they be honest with you?
      • Make sure your peers have some knowledge of what you are doing, however, it is good to get a wide variety of opinions to see where potential misunderstandings or issues may hide.
    • Feedback
      • What kinds of feedback do you want? (you should define this and also be open to different feedback).
      • Make sure you see feedback as being a critique of the process or product, NOT of you. They are NOT linked.
      • Make sure you ask why individuals think as they do, and elicit advice on changes to mitigate issues they raise.
    • When and how it will happen?
      • HSx in residence times
      • Online connections
      • At home
      • At the work place
      • Reach out to previous connections in connected jobs
  • Comparison to exemplars
    • Where to find exemplars:
      • Reach out to your advisor at HSx
      • Look online
      • Talk to previous bosses or professors
    • What can HSx and Argonne provide
      • Ask at orientation, in-residence, or ask your advisor

Digging Deeper in Expeditionary Learning:

What is its history?

  • When was it created and by whom? OUTWARD bound – Kurt Hahn and Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Why was it created
    • Current educational philosophy is not aligned with natural learning
  • Learning Philosophy:
    • Learning is active.
      • What does this mean? What is active? How can we be active while learning and retaining?
    • Learning is challenging.
      • If it is not challenging, you are not actually learning but applying previous knowledge (or doing rote tasks)
      • Zone of proximal development
    • Learning is meaningful.
      • There is a purpose behind learning.
      • It changes your brain and self
      • Learning is not merely task oriented
    • Learning is public.
      • You learn within a society
    • Learning is collaborative.
      • You don’t learn completely on your own, at least not efficiently.
      • “Why reinvent the wheel?” There are basic “truths” or best practices that can be applied without constant rethinking and redeveloping.

Why is it important?

These materials were developed as an initiative of the Advanced Thinking in Homeland Security (HSx) curriculum at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

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