Guest Column - September 2007
Find a printable version here

Quality Control

Association Guest Column: Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT)

By Sylvia Dresser

he challenge course industry is really quite young, especially when compared with other recreational activities like golf or swimming. One of the issues for the industry as such a young field is that it lacks a lot of research and statistics.

There has been a heightened awareness in the past few years about the necessity for evidence-based research to support what we know can happen on a challenge course. Most facilitators have seen someone undergo an amazing a-ha! moment while participating. Such anecdotal evidence, however, is not always enough for those who allocate funds and other resources. Of course, the research that's needed does not happen overnight, but it will come.

Accident/incident statistics are likewise hard to come by. Some major challenge course vendors have done studies and collected data, but it is not always very consistent or recent. Insurance companies collect data in their loss histories, but that is not usually publicly available information. From what we know and what we hear, however, we know that the predominant cause of incidents on the challenge course is human error.

Our brains are pretty amazing receptacles of information. Humans soak up information like sponges sometimes, and other times it leaks out just the same way. There is a whole body of knowledge around adult learning and education, and this knowledge certainly applies to challenge course facilitator training.

There seems to be a misperception across the board that once a person is trained as a facilitator, they really don't need much more beyond perhaps a quick refresher at the beginning of the next season. Speaking for myself, I know that when I am given information for the second, third or even fourth time, I often hear different parts of it and am able to understand it in a different way by building on what I already know. If there are time gaps between when I learn information and use the information, I know I forget at least some of it. I also know that in any given training, I will not get 100 percent of what is offered. One of the tools that can support learning then, is some kind of written documentation to take away and refer to later.

A differentiation also needs to be made between generic facilitator training and site-specific training. Refreshers on where the first-aid kit is kept and emergency procedures are recommended on a regular basis, particularly for someone who does not often work on the course.

Some programs also rely on what we refer to as second- or third-generation training. Someone who has learned directly from a professional instructor has had first-generation training. If they then come back and train others, it becomes second-generation training and so forth.

This always reminds me of the game of Telephone we played as kids—whisper a phrase into someone's ear, it gets passed around the circle and by the end is totally unrecognizable. I always thought the giggle factor had something to do with that, but only a little!