What is Experiential Learning and what are the best practices

What is Experiential Learning and what are the best practices?

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Experiential Learning

The method of learning through hands-on experience is referred to as experiential learning. This approach enables students to better connect the concepts and information taught in the classroom to real-life situations by participating in practical activities and reflecting on them. 

Experiential learning differs from traditional academic instruction in that students are in charge of their own learning, actively engaging and participating, rather than being told what to do and when. The instructor provides more autonomy to the student in this type of learning. The learning environment is unique and can take place outside of a classroom setting, without relying on textbooks or academic materials.

The Process of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning involves a series of steps that provide students with a hands-on, collaborative, and reflective learning experience that helps them to “fully learn new skills and knowledge” (Haynes, 2007). The core of experiential learning is to learn through exploration and experience, where students interact with the material, the teacher, and each other throughout the process. They also reflect on what they learn and apply it to different situations. The process of experiential learning includes

Discovering/Experiencing “Doing”

With little to no assistance from the teacher, students perform or complete hands-on, mind-on activities. Making items or models, role-playing, making presentations, solving puzzles, and playing games are a few examples.

Reflecting on and sharing “What happened?”

The outcomes, responses, and observations are discussed among the students. Students also get to hear from their peers about their experiences, thoughts, opinions, and sentiments. Sharing entails thinking back on what they learned and relating it to earlier experiences that can be applied in the future.

Processing/Analysing “What matters most?”

Students relate their experiences to upcoming learning opportunities by analysing concepts. Students also discuss the execution and how themes, issues, and problems developed as a result of it. They reflect on specific concerns or problems that were resolved and look for recurrent themes.

Generalising “So what?”

Students relate their experiences to real-world examples, trends and identify universal truths and principles.

Implementing, “now what?”

Students apply what they have learnt to related or different situations, as well as what they gained from prior experiences and practice. They also discuss how the technique they just learnt can be used in various cases and talk about how the issues mentioned can be helpful in future events and how they can apply what they have learnt. According to the instructor, each student should have a sense of ownership for what they have learnt.

Also Read: Simple guidelines to improve teaching quality and effectiveness in the classroom

Role of instructor in experiential learning

The instructor plays a crucial role as a facilitator in experiential learning. When students are motivated to learn, the instructor guides the process instead of directing it. The following steps are important for the instructor to keep in mind when facilitating experiential learning (UC-Davis, 2011 and Wurdinger & Carlson, 2010):

  • Be prepared to take a less dominant role in the classroom
  • Approach the learning process with positivity and without dominating it
  • Choose a project that students will be enthusiastic about and invested in
  • Explain the aim of the experiential learning scenario to the students
  • Connect the course’s learning objectives to hands-on activities and opportunities to ensure student understanding

Best practices to integrate experiential learning

Experiential learning provides opportunities for students to develop problem-solving, teamwork, collaboration, self-discovery, and self-reflection skills. Educators must choose experiences that challenge students and help them acquire new knowledge and skills. Here are some key ideas to keep in mind when incorporating experiential learning into your instruction:

1. Planning to start experiential learning 

Once the experiential learning activity/engagement has been selected, plan the activity by connecting it to the course learning objectives and identifying the prerequisites for the exercise (resources such as readings and worksheets, research, rubrics, supplies, and directions to off-campus locations, etc.).

Additionally, decide on the logistics: How long will it take the students to complete the experience (a full class period, a week, or more)? Will students be expected to labor after class hours? How will the session conclude? What types of evaluation will you use? Will you utilize self-and/or peer assessments, end-of-experience assessments like written reports and projects, ongoing assessments like observations and journals (referred to as formative assessments), or a combination of all three?

2. Preparation of the resources required

After planning, prepare necessary resources, rubrics, and assessment tools and ensure everything is ready before the start of the experience.

3. Facilitation

As with other teaching methods, the teacher should initiate the activity. Instead of providing all the content and answers to students, guide them as they find solutions on their own.

4. Evaluation

The success of the experiential learning exercise can be evaluated through discussions, reflections, and debriefing sessions. Debriefing helps extend and reinforce learning as a final experience. Utilize the previously planned assessment strategies for evaluation.

Experiential learning is an effective method to deepen understanding of any topic. Students benefit in many ways, including improved comprehension of course content, increased effectiveness in learning, heightened engagement, better memory retention, opportunities to collaborate with others, heightened confidence in the subject matter, and development of soft skills.

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