Experiential learning

Experiential learning is observation, simulation and/or participation that enhances learning through authentic activity, reflection, and application. Experiential learning at the post secondary level can refer to a broad spectrum of experiences:

  • Community service learning
  • Internships
  • Co-op experiences
  • Simulation activities
  • Field placements
  • Authentic classroom activities
  • Professional development and training activities

Experiential learning principles value multiple ways of knowing and multiple sources of knowledge and can be implemented into a wide range of topics or programs.

Why is experiential learning effective?

  • Develops relationships
  • Promotes meta-learning
  • Creates a kinesthetic imprint
  • Encourages risk-taking and builds confidence
  • Fosters or develops initiative, independent reasoning, and independent learning
  • Supports and strengthens diversity
  • Promotes fun

Experiential Learning and Kolb’s Learning Cycle

There are several models of experiential learning however Kolb’s model is one that is widely adopted. The learning cycle can be entered at any point but for complete learning to occur all four elements must be incorporated.

Concrete Experience

  • Participate in an event or experience
  • Absorb sights, smell, tastes, sounds, feelings
  • Gain personal experience
  • Process cues based on personal filters (biases, previous knowledge, assumptions)

Active Experimentation

  • Try something new or different based on new knowledge
  • Engage in action informed by theory, analysis and/or expertise
  • Try a new approach, idea, skill, or method based on valid information

Reflective Observation

  • Process primary experience (organize, integrate)
  • View experience from various perspectives
  • Make meaning of primary experience based on thoughts and feelings

Abstract Conceptualization

  • Make sense of interpreted meaning using theory, analysis and expertise
  • Process concepts, data and theoretical foundations
  1. Which learning outcomes in your courses could be enhanced by actually “seeing it”� or “doing it”�?
  2. How can you clearly communicate the objectives of an experiential activity and link it to the outcomes of the course?
  3. How can you organize experiential learning activities to include reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation?

From a practical perspective, it is important to determine the potential benefits before committing a lot of time and energy to planning for experiential learning. One of the most difficult experiences for a teacher to hear is “I don’t understand why we had to do that?”�

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