Experiential learning is a way to engage your students in authentic situations that can make learning powerful and meaningful. It 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).  Examples include case studies, simulations, experiments, internships, fieldwork, and service learning projects.

A note on terminology: 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, civically engaged learning, and authentic learning.

    Essentials of Experiential Learning

    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.

    Pedagogical Principles

    According to the Experiential Learning and Teaching Center at Brandeis University the pedagogical principles of experiential learning are:

    AUTHENTICITY

    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.

    RELEVANCY

    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.

    CONNECTING EXPERIENCE TO FUTURE OPPORTUNITY

    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.

    ACTIVE LEARNING

    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

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