What is Experiential Learning?

The Experiential Learning Working Group uses the definition of experiential education provided by the Association for Experiential Education:

Experiential education is a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people's capacity to contribute to their communities.

For the full definition please visit the Association for Experiential Education.

The AEE also established a number of principles that define experiential education and practices, including:

  • Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis;

  • Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results;

  • Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning; and

  • The educators and students set learning objectives and choose experiences to meet those objectives.

Kolb Learning Cycle

The most common framework for Experiential Learning comes to us through the work of David Kolb.

Kolb's Learning Cycle diagram - Concrete Experience; Reflective Observation; Abstract Conceptualization; Active Experimentation

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle guides the development of experiential learning activities.  As outlined in the Kolb model, students will have a concrete experience on which they will reflect (possibly through an assignment or other structured activity) and from which they will synthesize new perspectives and knowledge. Students will then apply and test this learning in future situations.