Experiential Learning

Image retrieved from: https://nifa.usda.gov/sites/default/files/resource/Experiential-Learning-Model.pdf


Experiential Learning

"Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other. For some expereinces are mis-educative."

                                       -John Dewey


If you do a search on experiential in the context of higher education you often see many articles equating experiential education to  internships,  university travel abroad, and service.  These are great experiencies, but  the term experiential education as it was coined by John Dewey and researched by David Kolb implies more than this.  

Experiential Learning is the process of making meaning from a direct experience. Meaning is created through the process of reflection, collaboration with peers, and applying hands-on learning into new contexts.  So although a student can have a great summer job in their field, service opportunities through clubs, and internships it does not mean they have connected the dots between what they have been studying in your classroom and this experience.  Without reflection there is no application.  A good teacher or mentor can help guide students through this process. 

Experiential education can also be applied in the classroom.  This essentially means the professor designs an "experience" for the student. This can be a scenairo, a video to watch, an excursion to a field site  where students do something or solve a problem etc.  The student may or may not have all the "facts' before them to actually preform the task.  This is okay. After students attempt to preform the task they are asked questions that guide them through discovering new knowledge.  These process questions start simply- what went well, what didn't go so well-,  and then asks students to make generalizations and connections between what you shared with them in earlier classes. Students often realize what else they need to know to approach the task better next time.  Professors then encourage students to apply what they have experienced to a new situation. 

Experiential education activities often mimic real-world applications, because in life you often don't have all the information- you discover what you need to learn and then have a reason to search for it.   Because of this-experiential education activities can be extremely powerful.

Educators often find the prospect of integrating experiential learning into the classroom to be a daunting task. The percieved need for additional time, resources, and classroom management techniques leave instructors hesitant to implement a more trial and error approach to teaching and learning. While these concerns merit consideration, the benefits outweigh the costs. The material moves away from being lecturer-centered and instead becomes student-centered. The professor moves into the role of facilitator and students learn to build confidence and competence through experimentation and classroom engagement. 

Experiential Learning can be achieved in the classroom though: 

  • Discussions
  • Think-Pair-Shares
  • Journaling 
  • Case studies

Upon completion of the facilitation of the experiential activity, the focus shifts from the activity to what students have learned. The element of reflection and a change in action is the heart of experiential learning. When students have the opportunity to explore and assess their own actions, they are engaged in the moment and retention of material is longer term and of higher quality. 

The linked article by Diana Mowen and Amy Harder details the rich history and benefits of experiential learning in agriculture: