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What is Experiential Learning?

In simple terms, experiential learning is the process of learning from experience. For example, instead of learning from the book or in a lecture, getting an internship in that field may provide a valuable learning experience for the student. It can take many forms whether you are in class or a job setting. Additionally, active participation and reflection help students connect the lesson learned to real-world experiences.

It’s important to note that it is not just about learning a skill through practice, but it is also about reflection and critically thinking of new ideas to improve upon based on observation.

4 Stages of Experiential Learning

David Kolb, an American educational theorist, developed the experiential learning theory to help leaders, such as instructors, cultivate and maintain a positive and constructive learning environment. According to Kolb, four parts describe the cycle: 

  • Concrete Experience – Initially, the learner does an activity from the lesson that was taught.
  • Reflection – The second stage involves the learner to reflect on their experience. Reflecting allows them to adjust their approach to a problem and make critical decisions.
  • Abstract Conceptualization – The third stage includes the student forming a new concept or theory based on his/her previous experience and reflection.
  • Active Experimentation – The last stage involves the learner using the newly formed concept to test in an experiential setting.
Experiential Learning
Graphic: Experiential Learning. Source:

An Example of Experiential Learning

An example could involve a student working with a teacher to learn how to teach a group of preschoolers. At this point, this is only called hands-on learning. After gaining some experience, the student might sit down with the teacher and reflect on what the student has learned. Next, based on reflection and past experiences, the student will develop new ideas on how to improve teaching strategies. Lastly, the student takes action in an experiential setting, which in this case is the classroom. 

2 Types of Experiential Learning

According to Ryerson University, there are two major types of experiential learning.

Field Based Learning – This is the oldest form of experiential learning and has been integrated into Higher Education since the 1930s. This learning includes service learning projects, internships, or practicums.

Classroom-Based Learning – This form has been growing as active learning has improved students’ memory attainment. This learning includes case studies, interactive games, presentations, simulations.

In conclusion, experiential learning allows students to gain real-world experience while also exposing students to challenges that will help them grow. Students also learn to think more critically, develop more ideas, and take action. However, as experiential learning takes place, it is also vital for instructors to set some structure specifying and observing learning objectives.

Question for our readers: Do you practice experiential learning in your classrooms? If so, how?

Happy grading from GradeHub!

Lea from GradeHub

Lea Ibalio is a senior majoring in business at the University of California, Irvine and this year’s marketing intern at GradeHub.