Designing Experiential Activities

As mentioned above, it isn’t the particular activity that is experiential; it is the way that it is framed that makes it experiential. So how are instructional activities made experiential? A general framework could be:

  1. Decide which parts of your course can be instructed more effectively with experiential learning.
  2. Think about how any potential activities match the course learning objectives.
  3. Think about how the potential activity complements the overall course of study.
  4. Think about the grading criteria and evaluation method that would match the proposed activity (Cantor, 1995, p. 82).

Once a potential activity has been identified, it has to be framed properly to be fully experiential. First, begin by thinking of problems to be solved rather than information to be remembered (Wurdinger, 2005, p. 51). “A problem or question must be intertwined with activities, projects, and field-based experiences. This will help ensure that a combination of thinking and doing occurs in the learning process” (Wurdinger, 2005, p. 13).

Think about the mixture of primary and secondary experiences. Primary experiences are the experiential activities themselves, while secondary experiences result from the primary experience, as in reflection. It is necessary to “combine primary and secondary experiences within the same academic course. Learning may be lost if students are not given the chance to reflect on primary experiences and, likewise, when students are not given opportunities to apply information from secondary experiences.” Depending on your learner population, the blend of primary and secondary experiences may change. For instance, undergraduates may need to begin with primary experiences, as they haven’t had a chance to accrue any themselves. Graduate students may have already been working in a professional capacity, therefore they may have a host of primary experiences that they can reflect on at the start (Wurdinger, 2005, p. 19).

Build in the necessary structure to underpin the activities. The creation of an effective experiential learning environment for students is “initiated by the teacher through clearly defined educational parameters—group working agreements, activity learning goals, a big-picture design plan, etc.” (Chapman, McPhee & Proudman, 1995, p. 243).

Wurdinger has provided a short guide to integrating experiential learning into a course that may help instructors start thinking about the process holistically:

  1. Use a major project or field experience to guide learning over the entire course. Having one major task to work on all semester motivates students to keep moving forward, gives them a clear goal to focus on, and becomes the “driving force behind everything the student does in the class… When students know what they are aiming toward, they understand that each class has purpose because it provides a stepping-stone toward that overall aim.”
  2. Use a combination of projects, classroom activities, and external experiences to keep the course interesting and engaging while adding value to the overall process.
  3. Tie everything together. The class readings and lectures should be directly related to any experiential activities. The readings and class activities should all be thought of as resources that will help the students complete their major project.
  4. Ensure activities are challenging, yet manageable. When students are given the responsibility of devising their own projects, the instructor must then make sure that they are able to complete them.
  5. Provide clear expectations for students. This could include assessment criteria, or examples of completed projects and activities from previous courses.
  6. Allow students the necessary time to “identify, clarify, and keep focused on their problem.”
  7. Allow students to change direction midstream. The most important thing is that the students be working on projects that are meaningful and relevant to them. If they lack interest, the learning will also be lacking (Wurdinger, 2005, p. 63).
Extract from :
Prepared by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate, for the Vice Provost, Academic, Ryerson University, 2012 http://www.ryerson.ca/lt 
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