Experiential Learning

Dr. Nicholas Correa

Principal & Executive Director, New Horizon Public School, Airoli, Navi Mumbai

Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience or learning by doing. Students of any age group can learn a concept effectively through role play, filed trips, experiments and various other group activities. Experiential learning first immerses the learners in an experience, followed by reflection about the experience to develop new skills, new attitudes or new ways of thinking. Experiential learning allows students to see how their learning applies to life outside the classroom.

Experiential learning enables children to pursue their own areas of interest and to work through problems as they arise in real-life situations. For example role play enables children expressing different ways of social or emotional situations.

The general concept of experiential learning is very ancient. The ancient Vedic education was all about learning through experience. Even the great Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “For the things we have to learn, before we can do them, we learn by doing them".

The modern concept of experiential learning was first explored by John Dewey and Jean Piaget, among others. As the name suggests, experiential learning involves learning from experience. According to Professor D.A Kolb, this type of learning can be defined as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combinations of grasping and transforming the experience." Kolb’s theory of experiential learning is well known and widely practiced across the globe.

Kolb’s research shows mastering expertise is a continuous process of experience, reflection, conceptualization and experimentation. These elements make up the experiential learning cycle which shows the relationship between each phase.

Methods of experiential learning:

Method:1: Incorporating simple experiential activities in class.

1. Determining the objectives:This is the first step of integrating experiential learning into the classroom. Teacher must figure out skills students need to acquire and content they need to understand. This will help the teacher design experiential activities which line up with teacher’s goals for the class.

2. Select an activity which helps meet those objectives:Teacher must select an activity that meets the educational goals she has set for her students. For instance, if a teacher is teaching the democratic process, she can hold a mock election. If a teacher is teaching economics, teacher can put students in groups, give them a budget, and tell them to spend their funding on a business idea. Then, have them determine how they’ll turn this startup into a thriving business.

3. Ask students to reflect on the activity:Teacher must challenge her students to take time to consider the lesson they’re meant to learn. This can be done individually by asking students to write in journals or respond verbally, or they can reflect in a group discussion. Teacher can ask few direct questions to help them get to the point. In the example about democratic process, teacher can ask questions like, “How do you think this outcome will affect citizens or businesses?” For the economics project above, teacher can ask something like, “How does the concept of supply and demand impact the efficacy of your business plan? For struggling students, teacher can ask something specific like, "Do you think the election of this candidate will lead to changes in legislature regarding education?"

4. Apply the activity directly to the lesson:Teacher can conduct a quiz or any other relevant activity or otherwise directly address the topic she is teaching. The goal of experiential learning is to improve the students’ comprehension of the topic, so teacher must make sure students have actually learned the topic by applying her lesson directly to an assignment or test. For instance, school Management extends the school time by twenty minutes for secondary classes, students can write an analysis regarding the effect of extra class time and how it affect their learning ability.

5. Reinforce what was learned in the activityNow that you’re the students have completed the in-class experiential learning assignment, reflected on how it relates to the course, and directly applied their learning to the topic, it’s time to reinforce the subject matter. In the example of economics teacher can ask students to consider the economic ramifications on existing businesses. If they were going to use their money to open a book store, teacher can ask them to consider whether or not their new business would impact profit.

Method: 2: Utilizing advance Project Based Learning:

1. Create a project that teaches core principles.  In most cases, these are group learning experiences or learning projects can also be assigned to individuals depending on their specific educational needs. For younger classes teacher can use a simple project like having students make a picture books about a history lesson. Teacher must give time for younger students to work as a group during class, or let them do a project on their own. In middle or secondary classes students, can practice leadership and time management skills by having them meet outside class.

2. Provide specific standard proformas: Teacher can give students a rubric at the start of the project, for clear understanding of teacher’s expectations. If rubrics is not used, the project must be kept simple. Teacher must make an outline of each step in the project. For example, a rubric for the debate project teacher may include researching topics, writing the speech, delivering the speech, and answering questions following the presentation.

3. Analyze what students learn:  Following the group project, teacher must take time to assess students’ comprehension of key ideas. This can be done in a number of ways like giving a quiz, assigning a written essay, explaining what they learned from the project or simply conducting a class discussion about how the project is related to the lesson plans.

4. Reflect on the lessons of teamwork:   If a teacher chooses a group project, it is important to build in an opportunity for students to assess their experience with the group. Many students struggle to work together, high achieving students may struggle to relinquish power over their grades to their peers. At the end of the assignment teacher can ask each student in the group to evaluate the other’s performance and their own. Teacher can ask students to outline their personal contribution to the project. Then, request an outline of the contributions of the other group members.

5. Provide an opportunity for students to reflect on the process: After each experiential lesson, teacher must allow her students to self-reflect on their learning process. Teacher can ask students to write a short reflection about the experience, any issues that may have arisen, and provide feedback about their experience. Teacher can create a questionnaire with questions such as:

  • How did the experiential learning process go for you?
  • What did you learn in terms of subject matter?
  • What helped you learn this material?
  • What was challenging about this process?
  • What was easy about this process?
  • What do you want to improve for the next lesson?

Method:3: Taking Learning outside the class:

1. Make a museum or zoo your classroom. Teacher can use community museums, zoos, or historical sites as an interactive classroom for experiential learning. Teacher must talk to the curators or Managers of the sites before the visit for making a good plan. Teacher with the assistance of the guides or the officials of the site must use the concepts/topics on display to teach the students about a given subject. For example, for biology, a visit to a zoo can be planned and teacher can discuss how the animals adapt to their habitats. For history lesson on the war, teacher a field trip to a battle site nearby can be arranged and teacher can discuss the battle that occurred there, and its impact.

2. Assign a trip to the theater.If teacher is teaching drama or theatre in literature, she must arrange to see a performance. It can be a professional show, local amateur theater performance or simply seeing the school play. Just attending the performance is not a complete experiential learning. Teacher must ask students to write a review or complete a quiz following the show, or discuss the performance as a class. In some cases, you can work with theaters to schedule a question and answer session for the class with the performers and directors of the show.

3. Visit nearby shops, restaurants, or parks.Teacher can incorporate a walk in a nearby park or trip to a local store or restaurant into a class lesson. For instance, if the students are studying economics, they can visit several local stores and compare prices on specific items. A trip to a local park can be turned into a civics lesson by discussing who runs the park, how the park is funded, and where the funding comes from, etc.

Dr. Nicholas Correa

Principal & Executive Director, New Horizon Public School, Airoli, Navi Mumbai