As education evolves, institutions need to ensure the learning methods they use are too. One of those methods is experiential learning. Essentially this process helps students develop knowledge, skills, and values from direct experiences outside a traditional academic setting. In the late 19th century, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus developed the first scientific approach to studying human memory and is credited with coining the term ‘learning curve.’ His theory is that retention of information decreases over time. For example, a student may absorb 100 percent of a lecture on the first day, but at the end of 30 days the retention rate decreases to only two to three percent!
It should be no surprise then that students learn quicker and retain more information when they have a personal connection to the subject matter. The process of experiential learning involves both self-initiative and self-assessment, as well as hands-on activity.
Four Elements of Experiential Learning
For learning to be considered “experiential,” it should contain these four elements:
- Reflection, critical analysis, and synthesis.
- Opportunities for students to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results.
- Opportunities for students to engage intellectually, creatively, emotionally, socially, or physically.
- Create a designed learning experience that includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes, and successes.
Five Benefits of Experiential Learning
Practicing a skill repeatedly strengthens the neural connections in our brain, which in turn makes us ‘smarter.’ As student engagement increases through hands-on activities that require practice, problem-solving, and decision-making, their learning accelerates and their retention improves.
Leads Students Toward College Majors and Careers
Since many experiential learning projects are career-oriented (i.e., ‘real-world’ activities), students start to discover and develop their own skills, aptitudes, and passions. This discovery in turn sets them on a more defined path to college and careers.
Prepares Students for Real Life
Most experiential learning activities are geared toward students working in groups. Through these team projects, students learn to work more effectively together, developing a plan of action, and utilizing the unique qualities of each team member. Students also learn real-life leadership skills, as well as how to apply critical thinking and adapt to changing circumstances.
Boosts Engagement Levels
By placing a high importance on students collaborating and learning from each other, each participant benefits from increased engagement. In addition, because the students are involved in the problem-solving from the start, the level of ownership of the outcome is high.
Empowers Personalized Learning
Personalized learning programs utilize assessment, teaching and learning strategy, and curriculum choice, making experiential learning and ideal fit to help meet these requirements. Learning goes beyond the classroom and students can learn at their own pace. And when students see the tangible results of their time and effort, it creates greater gratification and pride, which in turns enhances their enthusiasm for continued learning.
Photo Courtesy of: Alan Levine