Experiential Learning

Reflecting on Experience

Intended Learning Outcomes
What students learn
Way of Learning
Origins and theory
Common Methods
What the teacher provides
Reflecting on experience
Self-discovery and personal growth from real-world experience
Experiential learning
Experiential learning, cognitive neuroscience, constructivism
Internships
Service-learning
Study abroad

Is this a kind of learning that bubbles up out of experience? Is this learning that occurs when students go out and get immersed in a real-life work, service, or travel experience? Could students learn more from the experience if they have a chance to reflect on it and make meaning of it? Is there a potential here for learning to see something in a new way? These are learning outcomes that are well served by experiential learning.

A law professor arranges for law students to engage in a monitored work experience known as an externship. Students craft a Learning Agenda Plan, write journal and blog entries, and share their observations with the teacher and other students. They meet once a week as a class, face-to-face or online, to make sense of their experience. Along the way they find out if they like the practice of law, and if so which kind of law practice best suits them.

Teachers who want to use experiential learning effectively do the following:

  • Use this way of learning for the purpose of involving students in experiences that are engaging, active, multisensory, nonlinear, spontaneous, holistic, natural, and productive of meaning.
  • Select and approve potentially educative experiences that have appropriate levels of intensity, frequency, and duration.
  • Carefully match the experience with the student’s needs.
  • Work with the student to establish personal learning goals and define responsibilities.
  • Orient the student to the experience by providing necessary information or skill development.
  • Provide means, technological or otherwise, to keep in touch with the student during the experience.
  • Guide the student’s ongoing reflection with probing questions about the current picture that go beyond personal or superficial reactions, then help the student design a preferred picture and a way forward to take action.
  • Check in with students for periodic updates.
  • Provide an opportunity for students to create a final presentation, project, or story to demonstrate the meaning they have drawn from the experience

How do you use this way of learning?

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