Written by Angela Wartel
Experiential learning is one of several terms broadly applied to learning by doing. Other closely related and overlapping terms include active learning, service learning, engaged learning and authentic learning.
Experiential learning occurs when a student “cognitively, effectively, and behaviorally processes knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes in a learning situation characterized by a high level of active involvement.” (Hoover and Whitehead 1975: 25). It can take many forms and includes case studies, simulations, experiments, internships, fieldwork, and service learning projects. The activities serve to engage students in authentic situations that can make learning powerful and meaningful.
One of the first describers of experiential learning is Kolb, who, in 1974, defined learning as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb & Boyatzis, 1999).
Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle theorizes that active/experiential learning is seen when a person processes through a cycle of four stages:
(1) concrete experiences
(2) reviewing and reflecting on the experience
(3) concluding and learning from the experience
(4) active experimentation or trying the knowledge in other situations.
Kolb (1974) views learning as an integrated process with each stage being mutually supportive of and feeding into the next.
According to the Experiential Learning and Teaching Center at Brandeis University the pedagogical principles of experiential learning are:
Students understand their motivations for taking a course and learning the content. They can articulate connections among their learning experiences. The course provides a meaningful experience within the context of the student's goals and outlook.
Students understand the content as relevant to their own lives. Assessment is formative--it is used to support the learning process and guide changes to teaching strategies.
Every experience a student has had up to this point influences how they learn at this current moment. Students develop reflective skills that enable them to translate their learning into future opportunities.
Students are fully engaged (mentally, physically, emotionally) in the active process of learning. Instead of passively receiving content, students are co-constructing knowledge with their teacher and peers. They are actively testing, thinking, challenging, hypothesizing, interpreting and reflecting on the course material
Experiential learning creates students that are motivated and self-directed learners. It enables them to connect learning to life. Through strong community partnerships and exploration of our region, instruction at LCSC fosters powerful links between classroom knowledge and personal experience. Here are a few of many examples on campus.
If you would like to see a learning experience included on the page, please let us know by emailing the TLC Faculty in Residence, Angela Wartel.
Best Practices in Experiential Learning provides a guide for implementing and assessing experiential learning.
Kolb, D. & Boyatzis, R (1999). Experiential Learning Theory: Previous Research and New Directions in R. J. Sternberg and L. F. Zhang (Eds.), Perspectives on cognitive, learning, and thinking styles. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000.
Kolb, D. A., & Fry, R. E. (1974). Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. MIT Alfred P. Sloan School of Management.