Peer helpers' experience of participation in an adventure-based experiential learning programme: a grit perspective
Peer helper programmes have increasingly been used by universities to address difficulties that especially first year students experience. A peer helper is a registered student who has been selected and trained to assist student counselling services in performing interpersonal helping tasks with persons of similar age or experience. Considering various demands in the context of South-African universities, these peer helper programmes have become an indispensable part of the optimal functioning for most tertiary institutions. One of the main concerns in maintaining peer helper programmes in higher education, is peer helpers' lack of commitment and follow-through in fulfilling their duties. Previous research consider that the personal growth and skills peer helpers develop during their training, will contribute to the success of the programme. A number of peer helper programmes currently in existence have adopted, as part of their training, the facilitation of character strengths. This has been found to oppose the development of negative symptoms and have proven effective when individuals find themselves in challenging circumstances, such as peer helpers may often experience. Grit, a strength that has received extensive attention in the past decade, may be crucial for times when individuals experience their own troubles and concerns, or when they encounter critical situations. Grit can be defined as passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long-term goals, even when encountering challenges or adversities. Recent studies have revealed that grit can only be learned from actual experience of having overcome obstacles and through facing adversity outside of academic traditions. Adventure-based experiential learning (ABEL) provides unique possibilities for the enhancement of individuals' already positive functioning, and the development of various character strengths. The challenging nature of adventure activities represents an important underlying aspect of outdoor adventure programmes in fostering growth and change. More specifically, recent studies have found that the adventure component of adventure-based experiential learning engages the motivation and interest of the participants and develops the determination to persevere when situations become complicated, which points strongly toward the potential facilitation of grit. This qualitative case study focused on describing the subjective experiences of a group of peer helpers during their participation in an adventure-based experiential learning programme from a grit perspective. Data were collected through reflective diaries and focus group interviews. All 26 of the participants completed daily reflective diaries for the duration of the three days of the programme. After three months of performing their duties as peer helpers, the same individuals participated in three separate focus group interviews, reflecting on their experience of the programme, and its perceived impact on their functioning as peer helpers. Themes were identified through inductive analysis, and these themes were discussed regarding its relevance to the concept of grit. The main categories that emerged from both phases of data collection include intra-, inter-, and transpersonal/transcendent aspects. These main categories were prominent within both phases of data collection. Results suggest that adventure-based experiential learning, due to its specific nature and demands, may be an ideal intervention for the facilitation of personal growth of peer helpers and, more specifically, the improvement and/or development of their grit. An improved understanding of the potential impact of such interventions on participants' grit may prove valuable for the development of training programmes aimed at the improved functioning of peer helpers at South African universities.
- Health Sciences