One of the education trends in 2023 is a focus on experiential learning. Although it may sound like a new-age concept, it’s not new to education. Experiential learning just means that students can learn concepts by applying them to real-life, hands-on activities.
According to Envision Experience, “Students may tune out lectures if they think the material doesn’t pertain to the real world. Experiential learning takes data and concepts and applies them to hands-on tasks, yielding real results. As the student interacts with the information, it becomes real to them.” The author also points out that each student’s unique approach to finding a solution to the problem facilitates engagement. Just like in real life, their experimentation may yield different results.
Benefits of the Experiential Model
Through experiential learning, pupils can make mistakes, try multiple times and find the pathways in their brains to connect theory to practice. These connections also employ other parts of the brain, such as creativity and problem-solving, which are sometimes seldom used when learning mostly from textbooks.
In Mississippi College’s online Education Specialist (Ed.S.) in Educational Leadership – Curriculum & Instruction track program, teachers and aspiring educational leaders are guided towards a learner-centered approach. The Engaged Learning course, in particular, teaches educators how to “provide an emphasis on creating learning opportunities that address the brain’s need for meaning, patterns and connections.” When something learned in class takes real meaning, it can also shift students’ interests and impact their future career choice.
Another great benefit of this concept, as pointed out by Envision Experience, is the opportunity to reflect and question. Students “analyze how their actions affected the outcome and how their outcome may have differed from those of other students. This analysis helps them better understand how the concepts they’ve learned can be applied to other circumstances.”
This may be one of the most interesting aspects of experiential learning. Just like babies and toddlers learn mostly from observance and make deductions based on the little experiences they have, so do PreK-12 kids and adults. For educators, this is particularly special because it can also be a hook to engage students in other subjects and topics.
The cyclical nature of experiential learning, David Kolb’s understanding of it in particular, is another crucial element. According to Future Learn, the American educational theorist proposed a four-part division of the learning process, starting with concrete experience, reflective observation, going into abstract conceptualization and ending in active experimentation. In sum, the person has a real-life experience, reflects on that experience (or on seeing other people doing the same thing), looks for other sources to either make sense of or add new information to their experience and then actively tries again.
The authors of Future Learn conclude that “[a]s a result of this active experimentation, the learner will have a new concrete experience and the cycle will start all over again. This cycle can keep going until the learner feels confident about the area at hand and they’re happy with how the concrete experience pans out. By allowing learners to test their knowledge practically like this, you can ensure a higher retention of information.”
Applying Experiential Learning
There are plenty of ways to apply these concepts to the classroom. One article on Linkedin notes that educators create projects that include gaming, community-driven activities and simulations, among other methods and resources. As an example, the author cites a school that proposes an “Expeditionary Day” every week in which students take their questions and look for solutions within the rest of the school community or the surrounding community at large.
This way, students get perspectives from both their microcosm (classroom, school) and the macrocosm (neighborhood, city or country). Each student will end up with various answers, celebrating the plurality of our world and living up to a key ideal of experiential learning: There is never just one solution to the problem.
A postgraduate Ed.S. degree in educational leadership and curriculum and instruction will equip graduates to support learning for a diverse student population, demonstrate knowledge to promote social change, evaluate and measure effective instructional practices and curriculum development strategies and utilize data-driven assessments.