Experiential learning

Experiential learning

Experiential Learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience.


Aristotle once said, "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. Experiential learning is learning through reflection on doing, which is often contrasted with rote or didactic learning. Experiential learning is related to, but not synonymous with, experiential education, action learning, adventure learning, free choice learning, cooperative learning, and service learning. While there are relationships and connections between all these theories of education, importantly they are also separate terms with separate meanings.

Experiential learning focuses on the learning process for the individual (unlike experiential education, which focuses on the transactive process between teacher and learner). An example of experiential learning is going to the zoo and learning through observation and interaction with the zoo environment, as opposed to reading about animals from a book. Thus, one makes discoveries and experiments with knowledge firsthand, instead of hearing or reading about others' experiences.

Experiential learning requires no teacher and relates solely to the meaning making process of the individual's direct experience. However, though the gaining of knowledge is an inherent process that occurs naturally, for a genuine learning experience to occur, there must exist certain elements. According to David Kolb, an American educational theorist, knowledge is continuously gained through both personal and environmental experiences. He states that in order to gain genuine knowledge from an experience, certain abilities are required:

  1. the learner must be willing to be actively involved in the experience;
  2. the learner must be able to reflect on the experience;
  3. the learner must possess and use analitical skills to conceptualize the experience; and
  4. the learner must possess decision making and problem solving skills in order to use the new ideas gained from the experience.

For the adult learner especially, experience becomes a "living textbook" to which they can refer. However, as John Dewey pointed out, experiential learning can often lead to "mis-educative experiences. In other words, experiences do not automatically equate learning. The classic example of this is the lecture experience many students have in formal educational settings. While the content of the course might be "physics" the experiential learning becomes "I hate physics." Preferably, the student should have learned "I hate lectures." Experiential learning therefore can be problematic as generalizations or meanings may be misapplied. Without continuity and interaction, experience may actually distort educational growth and disable an otherwise capable learner. There are countless examples of this in prejudice, stereotypes, and other related areas.


Experiential learning can be a highly effective educational method. It engages the learner at a more personal level by addressing the needs and wants of the individual. Experiential learning requires qualities such as self-initiative and self-evaluation. For experiential learning to be truly effective, it should employ the whole learning wheel, from goal setting, to experimenting and observing, to reviewing, and finally action planning. This complete process allows one to learn new skills, new attitudes or even entirely new ways of thinking.

Remember the games we use to play when we were kids? Simple games, such as hopscotch, can teach many valuable academic and social skills, like team management, communication, and leadership. The reason why games are popular as experiential learning techniques is because of the "fun factor" - learning through fun helps the learner to reatin the lessons for a longer period.

Most educators understand the important role experience plays in the learning process. A fun learning environment, with plenty of laughter and respect for the learner's abilities, also fosters an effective experiential learning environment. It is vital that the individual is encouraged to directly involve themselves in the experience, in order that they gain a better understanding of the new knowledge and retain the information for a longer time. As stated by the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, "[t]ell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand."

According to D'Jungle People Experiential Learning Consultants Malaysia, experiential learning is about creating an experience where learning can be facilitated. How do you create a well-crafted learning experience? The key lies in the facilitator and how he or she facilitates the learning process. An excellent facilitator believes in the creed, "You teach some by what you say, teach more by what you do, but most of all, you teach most by who you are." And while it is the learner's experience that is most important to the learning process, it is also important not to forget the wealth of experience a good facilitator also brings to the situation.

An effective experiential facilitator is one who is passionate about his or her work and is able to immerse participants totally in the learning situation, allowing them to gain new knowledge from their peers and the environment created. These facilitators stimulate the imagination, keeping participants hooked on the experience.

Sudbury model of democratic education schools assert that much of the learning going on in their schools, including values, justice, democracy, arts and crafts, professions, and frequently academic subjects, is done by learning through experience.


Experiential learning is most easily compared with academic learning, the process of acquiring information through the study of a subject without the necessity for direct experience. While the dimensions of experiential learning are analysis, initiative, and immersion, the dimensions of academic learning are constructive learning and reproductive learning. Though both methods aim at instilling new knowledge in the learner, academic learning does so through more abstract, classroom based techniques, whereas experiential learning actively involves the learner in a concrete experience.

See also


Related Topics


Minnesota State University, Mankato Masters Degree in Experiential Education

School for International Training, Masters of Arts Degree in Language Teaching


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