To determine the best practices in experiential learning, it is necessary to first define experiential learning. In the words of Lewis and Williams (1994, p.5):
“In its simplest form, experiential learning means learning from experience or learning by doing. Experiential education first immerses learners in an experience and then encourages reflection about the experience to develop new skills, new attitudes, or new ways of thinking.”
The first theories of experiential learning arose in the mid-nineteenth century as attempts to move away from traditional formal education, where teachers simply presented students with abstract concepts, and toward an immersive method of instruction. Students would “learn by doing,” applying knowledge to experience in order to develop skills or new ways of thinking (Lewis & Williams, 1994, p. 6).
Experiential learning is also built upon a foundation of interdisciplinary and constructivist learning. Experiential methodology doesn’t treat each subject as being walled off in its own room, unconnected to any other subjects. Compartmentalized learning doesn’t reflect the real world, while as the experiential classroom works to create an interdisciplinary learning experience that mimics real world learning (Wurdinger, 2005, p. 24). Similarly “experiential learning is aligned with the constructivist theory of learning” in that the “outcomes of the learning process are varied and often unpredictable” and “learners play a critical role in assessing their own learning” (Wurdinger, 2005, p. 69). How one student chooses to solve a problem will be different from another student, and what one student takes away from an experience will be different from the others.
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Prepared by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate, for the Vice Provost, Academic, Ryerson University, 2012 http://www.ryerson.ca/lt