Michael Riley

Assistant Professor of Outdoor Education

Mike Riley, faculty
Office:Wheeler Hall 313
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Earned and Honorary Degrees

PhD University of Utah; Parks, Recreation, & Tourism with an emphasis in Outdoor Education
MA University of Arizona, Educational Psychology
BA Prescott College, Adventure Education


I discovered outdoor recreation activities in high school, and since that time, I have not looked back. I am passionate about climbing-related activities and I love spending time in the vertical world.

I have a broad professional experience base and have worked for both outdoor education providers and guide services. I still make time to work professionally in the outdoor industry as an instructor/guide for a climbing guide service each summer.

Why Northland?

There are many reasons why I decided to work for Northland College. As an educator, I thoroughly enjoy designing and delivering a liberal arts focused curriculum that incorporates materials and ways of knowing from various disciplines. I appreciate the opportunity to teach in the numerous outdoor spaces that are near the College. I also really enjoy working with Northland students. I continually marvel at their personal interests and how they are shaping students' life paths, their engagement, and their desire to understand and wrestle with the specific content under consideration.


I teach both classroom and field-based courses. I believe that outdoor classrooms provide myriad opportunities for learning and development that aren't necessarily possible in walled classrooms. Consequently, one key feature of all my courses is providing students the opportunity to learn and recreate outside.


I use qualitative and mixed methods research to explore the outcomes of participation in outdoor education activities. I am also interested in outdoor education instructors and identifying research-based ways to support them as they work in the field.

My recent research explores the learning occurring during autonomous student experiences in outdoor adventure education programs. I'm working to identify and better understand the mechanisms that support student learning during these experiences as well as how groups of students collectively regulate their engagement, participation, and motivation while they're experiencing greater autonomy.

Student Involvement

I consider myself a constructivist educator. As such, I believe that learning experiences are co-created in tandem by the students and the facilitator. In practice, my students are typically provided opportunities to co-create components or sections of my courses. I also believe that autonomy is a crucial part of the learning process and I strive to provide my students with opportunities to select ways to interact with course content that is personally meaningful to them and helps them pursue their academic and professional goals.


I enjoy playing outside with my family. It is really fun to watch my daughter explore and learn about the outdoors and outdoor environments.

Beyond that, I really enjoy climbing-related activities, running, and a good book (preferably non-fiction).