Chapter 6 - Developing Learning Hurdles

It is not a good idea to assume that because a hurdle was used previously, it is appropriate in the current context. A hurdle loses its effectiveness if not matched to current needs. The manager-of-learning needs to be constantly alert to novel, challenging ideas for hurdles. Furthermore, hurdles from past years may become known among participating youth.

Types of Hurdles

All the learning activities we develop are designed to be heuristic. The learner is encouraged to learn independently through his own and the groups investigation.


Makes use of the environment and naturally occurring situations (e.g., a ravine). It might also be a situation that can be created in the environment, but is essentially related to the environment (e.g., the development of a morning ceremony site).


Creating a situation that would not be found in the existing environment, but might be found elsewhere (e.g., simulation of a committee that has responsibility to plan a high school dance). These are particularly important in White Stag to promote transfer to the home unit the attitudes, skills and knowledge acquired in Venture Crew 122.


A purely mental, often contrived, sometimes rigidly controlled situation designed to stimulate abstract or creative responses (e.g., the NASA "Moon Survival Exercise" that requires group consensus on the ranking of 16 survival items, left after crash-landing on the moon 200 miles from the mother ship). These may be especially useful in groups that are somewhat advanced in skill level.

Objective of a Hurdle

The purpose of a hurdle is to provide:

Hurdle Design

A hurdle requires careful thought, planning and study during preparation. As a hurdle is being developed, these criteria ought to be considered:

Group Resources

The development of the hurdle must begin with consideration of the group's resources. The hurdle must proceed from the "known to the unknown." In general it would not be good practice, for example, to present a hurdle requiring lashing to a group of eleven year old White Stag learners. They undoubtedly barely know basic knots. The learners need to be able to see the connection between current skills and those introduced. This can be especially effective if a few of the group members have some or most of the skills being introduced.

In summary, the manager-of-learning must know the group's resources and exploit and challenge those resources. He must strive to expand members' limits.

Environmental Influences

The second item to consider in development of the hurdle, though not necessarily in order of importance, is the environment: the terrain or area where the hurdle will be situated (if it is of that type). The area may suggest potential hurdles, such as bridges, rafts, towers and ceremonial areas. Available resources (e.g., downed trees) may suggest other ideas. Sometimes still other resources may be imported to contribute to the environment.

Don't hesitate to include a certain amount of risk. Baden-Powell wrote:

I deplore the modern tendency to place "safety first" beyond all else. A certain amount of risk is necessary to life, a certain amount of practice in taking risks is necessary to the prolongation of life. Scouts have to be prepared to encounter difficulties and dangers in life.

Recent studies have shown that a certain amount of risk-taking is a healthy and natural part of life.his

Do be careful. Urban youth are not aware of the dangers in wilderness situations, particularly when they disturb fixed objects. The reaction of some downed logs to dislodgment can result in explosive counter-movements. The youth staff and adult staff must observe and know when to caution learners. especially regarding position to such objects. "Risk" does not mean foolish and naive actions which open the manager-of-learning and the program to liability. Hurdles must not be created in defiance of common sense and good judgment.

Skills to be Taught

The third item to consider as a hurdle is developed are the skills required for the task. Outdoor skills (e.g., knife and ax, fire building, lashing); the deductive and reasoning powers relative to the known or predicted capabilities of the group, and the leadership competencies desired for exposure or application. Whatever the solution, it must require real and useful application of skills.

Once these three items have been given consideration and the hurdle is considered realistic and practical, then the hurdle itself must be written. This is one area that can be quite "dangerous." The hurdle must be written with great care. Review what is written carefully with all possible interpretations of what is put down. It must not be open ended nor capable of a solution with a meaningless and unchallenging performance. If a hurdle is written for use in one locale, evaluate it for applicability when considering it for use in another.

Remember that a hurdle can vary from a short and simple one ("Build a device using the spars and rope provided that will support an American flag.") to the extremely complicated and exacting of many hours duration ("The group must design and construct a permanent means of access to the far side of the river. Build it at site "X" using materials "Y" by "Z" o'clock today.")

Outcomes Desired

The hurdle as written must be so designed as to produce the outcome(s) desired. For your own reference, your copy of the written hurdle ought to contain the advocated solution or response, and perhaps a rationale for that solution (why this one over any other). Staff must know what outcomes, aside from any physical solution or response, are desired (e.g., "follow-on discussion should elicit comments regarding group Communication and Sharing Leadership.")

It is a good idea for the staff during staff development to try out a new hurdle themselves. This evaluation will turn up "bugs" in the hurdle and allow the staff to modify their design and sharpen their expectations of the candidate learners.

Keep in mind that although the hurdle will be planned with your preconceived solution in mind, it is not impossible, is in fact possible and desirable, that the group will devise another solution that is equally acceptable, and yet different in all aspects from that expected. Independent, creative thought could be considered another objective of a hurdle.

A hurdle can be considered successful even if it is not "finished". This "success" will be apparent if in the approach to its "solution" the group successfully uses the processes (competencies of leadership) in their step by step efforts to achieve a solution.

This does not mean we should create hurdles that cannot be solved or accomplished. Hurdles must be planned to allow a successful solution if the group utilizes all the resources available. If the approach (or process) is that which is desired, but the result is not, the manager of learning must help the group realize its success and lessen any misplaced sense of failure.

The heuristic hurdle ought to be used judiciously in White Stag. Our learners typically have two muscles to sit on and 1000 to wiggle with, and a wiggling learner is not receptive.

An Instructional Strategy

The strategy described here, also knows as The Behavior Game2, is used to help participants identify leadership behaviors.

Goal and Objectives

The goal of the game is to enable the participants to evaluate the learning of specific competencies by increasing their awareness of behaviors which indicate the presence of the competencies. The game has two objectives:

Although not a stated objective of the game, the participants ought to be able to create a pool of indicators for each competence which can be used to evaluate the competencies in various situations. Some of these indicators may even lend themselves to being stated in behavioral terms.

The Game

The Behavior Game is played by two teams of equal or near-equal size. It is best to have at least six players on a team, although the game can be played with as few as four on a team. The game leader (who will not play) gives the participants the following information either orally or in writing:

The object of the game is for each team to generate as many different words or phrases as it can which describe observable leaner behavior for a given competence in a specific situation.

Game Example

An example objective, for example, could be:

Learners display the ability to Get and Give Information at a patrol meeting.

The descriptors for that objective might then include the following:


The game is played like charades, with two differences: 1) half of your team act together, and 2) the actors may speak while they are acting.

Then the game leader gives each participant a piece of paper with the following instructions written on it:

Half of your team, the Actors, will be given a specific situation and a competence that is being displayed in that situation. They have five minutes to plan a kit or series of skits that will show this competence being used in that specific situation. They will then have two minutes to act out these skits to the other half of the team, the Observers.

The Actors ought to try to show as many observable behaviors as possible in the given amount of time. The Observers are to write down descriptive words or phrases for what they observe during the skit. When the skit ends, the observers have two minutes to get together and combine their lists into one which includes as many different descriptive words or phrases as possible. The team scores a point for each different descriptive word or phrase. The actors may speak during the skits but may not mention the competence by name. They must state the situation before the skit starts.

When all participants have read the instruction, the game leader answers any questions they may have about the rules. When there are no more questions the game leader asks each team to split into two groups. He then gives each group a 3"x5" card which states a competence and a specific situation.

Each group has five minutes to discuss the situation and determine how it will use its allotted two minutes to display the competence to the other half of its team.

When the five minutes are up, the game leader asks one group to make its presentation to the other half of its team. When the group is finished, the half that observed compiles its list of descriptors and reports back to the leader. Team members may guess which competence was being displayed, but no points are scored. Each group presents its skit in this manner. The winning team is the one with the highest score when the points for each of its two groups' skits are added together.


In scoring, the opposing team may challenge whether a listed descriptor is evidence of the competence in question. In such cases the game leader must make the decision whether to score that descriptor.

The opposing team may also challenge whether a word or phrase is a descriptor at all. In these cases, the decision can be made on this basis: a word or phrase is a descriptor if it can be used to complete one of these two sentences: "I saw the learner (blank)," or, "I heard the learner (blank)."

The game leader ought to be a person (usually an adult) who has had experience in the leadership development program and has had some exposure to behavioral objectives. Robert Mager's books are recommended to a potential game leader who may not have any previous exposure to behavioral objectives. (See "Bibliography" for more information.)


One important variation to the above procedure is for the game leader to lead a discussion about the competence and its descriptors after each round of the game. This has been found to be an excellent way to generate more participant understanding of behavior and evaluation. Some of the questions a game leader might use are:

Game Rationale

The philosophical and theoretical foundations for this instructional strategy can be found in the writings of the proponents of the discovery approach to learning: John Dewey and Jerome Bruner are two who stand out. Basically, the discovery approach confronts the learner with a problem, and requires his active participation in the solution of the problem.

The discovery approach seeks to go beyond the level of memorization of information by affording the learner the opportunity to understand relationships in a situation and reflect on those relationships to develop a greater insight than the learner would through memorization.

The Behavior Game achieves these ends. The learners are confronted with the problem of preparing a skit to display behaviors related to a competence. They are stimulated to think about the competence, the situation, and the relationships between the two. The solution of the problem, that is, creating and presenting the skit, requires the active participation of the learners. They demonstrate for their teammates what this competence is all about in a particular situation. In a sense, the actors fulfill a teaching role as much as they fulfill a learning role.

Through the Behavior Game participants can internalize an understanding for the competencies in question. When the time comes for them to serve as an evaluator, they will watch closely and, as behaviors appear, relate them to the skits which were observed or acted in.

The Behavior Game works for many reasons. Learning is an active endeavor and the game requires the learner's active participation. The game is fun; it may not even occur to the participant that learning is taking place while the game is played.

The Behavior Game places its subject matter in a functional, realistic context. This real-life exposure to the content makes learning much more relevant than exposure through a text or program that creates unbelievable or abstract situations. Finally, the game works because the learner can draw upon the ideas of the others instead of trying to understand something by himself; many heads are better than one.

2] Developed and written by Bill Roberts, Troop Leadership Development Scoutmaster, 1975.

Copyright © 1981— , Brian Phelps. All rights reserved. Short portions may be excerpted for review and quotes. For copyright purposes, only introductory portions of this book are available online. Order the newest edition today.