Experiential learning takes students out of a traditional lecture or textbook-based learning scenario and challenges them to find information for themselves. It is the process of learning through experience. Students learn from their experiences by engaging in reflection and analysis.
Four Stages of Experiential Learning
The process through which students develop knowledge, skills, and values from direct experiences is based on a model composed of four stages:
1. Concrete Experience
In this stage, the students engage in an activity or have an experience. For example, they might visit the Museum of American History to view an exhibit about migration patterns across the United States. They would use the first person narratives and artifacts to develop a picture of what a journey across the country by train might be like.
2. Student Reflection
In this stage, the learner reflects on their experience. They might record their observations, or share them in discussion with other students. With student reflection, the task for the learner is to identify and understand the new things learned and how they relate to their basic knowledge.
3. Abstract Conceptualization
In this stage, the student uses the new understanding to form an explanation or thesis statement for a history paper or presentation. Either way, they are creating something new from their experience.
4. Active Experimentation
In the last stage, the student goes out and tests whether their theory is correct or whether it can be applied to a new situation. A history student might research another culture or another era. This process promotes engaged and meaningful learning and supports the practice and application of critical social and emotional competencies.
Elements of Experiential Learning
Teens often thrive in environments where they are allowed to engage in exploration and where they find encouragement and not judgment. They need to find spaces where they don’t feel the need to fit the mold, but instead, can break it and make it their own. Providing settings and opportunities for unique and different experiences and perspectives is another vital part of encouraging exploration through experiential learning. Young people who are exposed to situations both similar and dissimilar to their own will expand their perspective.
Questions are the driving force behind the inquiry-based learning process of the Socratic method; they guide a student to discovering information the teacher already holds. The primary purpose of the question in the Socratic classroom is to keep the teacher from lecturing and allow students to engage in discovery. Questions also ensure that students are developing summaries of their reading and developing their own conclusions. Students learn to prepare questions, listen critically to the answers, and use analytical skills to request clarification.
Applications of Experiential Learning
Project Based Learning
Project Based Learning is a method whereby students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. Students are often tasked with finding the solution to a problem. They are asked to research and create. Since the tackle problems according to a plan of their choosing, they achieve deeper learning.
Service-learning is a hands-on teaching and learning method that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection. It is an organized program, part of a school curriculum, that gives kids the opportunity to link what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations in their communities. Learning occurs as teens discuss their experiences with others, when they write about issues, and when they reflect on the meaning of their work.
City As Classroom
In some instances, students can engage directly in an experiential learning environment as part of a school's curriculum. For example, in alignment with a commitment to experiential education, Blyth-Templeton Academy primarily uses Washington D.C. as a “classroom.” Located in a historically and culturally rich environment, students have access to premier facilities and resources. Students experience the real world in real-time; developing the ability to analyze, problem-solve, and address real-world issues.
Questions about experiential learning and academic rigor – the high level of performance required for a challenging transcript – are often presented. Well developed experiential learning programs that integrate the hands-on approach throughout the curriculum provide an opportunity for teens to be in control of their learning. The resulting student engagement and enjoyment of the learning experience leads to a higher level of motivation that drives them to perform well.
They develop more skills that will help them to present themselves as engaged, well-rounded learners who have developed critical thinking skills both inside and outside of the classroom. Students don't lose out on building the transcript that will attract the college of their dreams because they participate actively in their learning experience. They develop deep thinking skills that translate to the college classroom, giving them an advantage when it comes to critical thinking and independent problem-solving.