At Outward Bound, our mission is changing lives through challenge and discovery. We are equally committed to challenging ourselves as an organization, as we seek to continuously improve the quality and impact of our programs. We have a long history of evaluating Outward Bound programs to discover what is working well and how we can strengthen the experiences for our students. 

In 2017, Outward Bound USA and its network of regional schools advanced their commitment to quality improvement with the establishment of the Outward Bound Professional Learning Lab (The Lab). The Lab’s purpose is to continuously improve the student experience. The Lab leads the Outward Bound network in collecting and analyzing data on program delivery and student outcomes and using that data to inform program improvement.  Additionally, the Lab leads network-wide efforts to enhance professional learning opportunities for staff.

While it is hard to put the profound impact of an Outward Bound course into words, The Lab has worked diligently to describe the areas of social and emotional development that Outward Bound students experience and to support Outward Bound staff in delivering high-quality student experiences. 

With Outward Bound USA and its regional network of schools we have developed tools to rigorously measure its practices and outcomes. This way the Learning Lab of OB can continuously refine experiences and train staff. Through this innovative integration of research and practice Outward Bound USA is quickly becoming a leader in the growing social-emotional development space.

- Drs. Gil Noam and Dawn McDaniel, The Noam Institute


Since 2017, The Outward Bound Professional Learning Lab has partnered with Dr. Gil Noam and the NOAM Institute to evaluate social-emotional development on Outward Bound programs.  

Our Approach

When the Outward Bound Professional Learning Lab launched in 2017, Outward Bound had over 50 years of experience delivering programs that support social-emotional development.  In partnership with the NOAM Institute, and with input from students, field staff, and expert practitioners, The Lab developed a framework for codifying this history of effective practice.  This framework, called the Domains of Thriving, outlines the areas of human development that Outward Bound impacts, the key social-emotional skills students gain, and the specific conditions that support learning at Outward Bound.  The Domains of Thriving observational tool also outlines 36 key practices that staff use to support students’ social-emotional growth.  This tool supports Outward Bound schools in training and coaching staff and allows the Outward Bound system to measure staff practice so that we can evaluate and improve our programs. 

Our Impact

Outward Bound and the NOAM Institute have worked together to develop the Outward Bound Outcomes Survey.  This self-report retrospective survey combines scales from the time-tested Holistic Student Assessment with new scales that are of specific interest to Outward Bound.  This tool allows all 11 regional Outward Bound schools to collect consistent data on how students are impacted by their Outward Bound experiences in key areas of social-emotional development. 

Gil Noam, EdD, is the founder and director of The PEAR Institute: Partnerships in Education and Resilience at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School and the NOAM Institute. Dr. Noam has a strong interest in translating research and innovation to support resilience in youth in educational settings and has published over 200 papers, articles, and books on topics related to child and adolescent development and risk and resiliency.

The Domains of Thriving has provided a structure that can be used to improve mentorship and coaching, training, new curriculum development, and communication.

- Alex Schwartz, Safety and Training Director, North Carolina Outward Bound School


The Outward Bound Professional Learning Lab brings together leaders from the Outward Bound system in the US via live and virtual convenings to examine data from our evaluation tools, learn from each other, and collaborate to continuously improve our programs. 


In addition to its evaluation efforts, the Outward Bound Professional Learning Lab also develops professional learning resources for Outward Bound staff that are grounded in research and practical experience.  Sessions are in use across the Outward Bound system on topics such as Facilitating Belonging, Listening and Coaching, Questioning Strategies, and Promoting Discussion.   

"The Learning Lab has provided an invaluable opportunity to build meaningful connections with colleagues across the system through repeated in-person working sessions over the course of several years.  The Lab staff provided thoughtful and engaging facilitation which enabled us to engage in critical inquiry, collaborate on shared projects and ultimately develop systems and content that benefit the entire Outward Bound System."

- BJ Allen, Director of Student Services, Director of Equity, California Outward Bound School


We know that an Outward Bound course is one unique and powerful way to support social-emotional development.  In order to maximize our impact and reach as many young people as possible, we also support educators in bringing high quality social-emotional learning to their classrooms through The Thriving Classroom: An Educator Professional Development Series. 


Katie Dalbey is the Director of Learning and Evaluation for Outward Bound USA. Through the Outward Bound Professional Learning Lab, she leads a collaboration of Outward Bound staff from around the country to measure and improve staff practice and student outcomes. Katie has been “Outward Bound” since 2002.  Based primarily in the Southeast, her roles with Outward Bound have included Instructor, Course Director, Associate Program Director, Staffing Manager and Director of At-Risk Programs. 

Tyler Fish is a Learning Specialist for the Professional Learning Lab with Outward Bound USA.  Tyler has been “Outward Bound” since 1996. He began his career with Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS), where he played a variety of leadership roles including running the Intercept Program, Outward Bound’s open-enrollment, youth-at-risk program.

Please contact either Katie or Tyler for more information on The Learning Lab.

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