Experiential learning: Everything you need to know

Experiential learning: Everything you need to know

Experiential learning is the application to real-world interactions of theory and academic content, either within the classroom, within the community, or within the workplace, which encourages program or course-based learning outcomes that concentrate primarily on employability skills. It allows the learner not only to participate in the activity of experience but also to reflect on their learning and how to apply their skills gained during their academic studies outside the classroom. Workplace experiences such as co-op and internship placements are only one type of learning opportunities that can be offered to learners in the workplace.


Typically, these opportunities are divided into three categories: course-oriented, group-oriented, and work-oriented. They provide staff with hands-on experiences not only in the classroom but also in the community and workplace (Strategic Transformation Group on Employability, Carleton University). Experiential learning is the process of learning by doing and it also:

  • Combines clear experience with reflective focus;
  • Builds on previous understanding and experiences;
  • Needs active participation in building meaning;
  • Promotes cooperation and sharing of thoughts and perspectives;
  • It can be based on the course or in class, focused on the group or focused on work.



What is Experiential learning?

Learning by doing. Experiential learning focuses on the premise that getting experiences is the best way to understand things. Those interactions then stand out in your mind and help you recall facts and retain details. Experiential learning is described by Simon Fraser University as:

strategic, active involvement of students in learning opportunities and reflection on those activities, enabling them to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical activities in a variety of settings within and outside the classroom.

(Bates, 2021)


Experiential Learning Theory


David Kolb is best known for his research on the theory of Experiential learning, or ELT. In 1984, Kolb published this model, gaining influence from other great thinkers, such as John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, and Jean Piaget. In four steps, the principle of Experiential learning show;  concrete learning, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and productive exploration. The first two steps of the cycle include understanding an experience, while the second step focuses on the transformation of an experience. Kolb claims that as the learner goes through the cycle, successful learning is seen and that they can join the cycle at any point.


Concrete learning is when a student has a new experience or, in a new way, interprets a previous experience. Next comes retrospective reflection, where the learner focuses directly on their experience. To focus upon what this experience entails, they use the prism of their experience and comprehension. As the learner forms fresh ideas or changes their thinking based on the experience and their reflection on it, abstract conceptualization takes place. Active exploration is where the learner applies fresh ideas to the world around them, to see if there are any improvements to be made. This approach may occur over a short period, or a long period. Kolb went on to clarify that learners would have their preferences and that these preferences come down to a learning cycle about how they join the cycle of Experiential learning.


Kolbs Experiential learning cycle model

The cycle of Experiential learning is focused on the concept that each person has a particular form of propensity to learn and is therefore dominant in some stages of Experiential learning. For example, in concrete learning and reflective observation, some learners will be more dominant, while others will be dominant in abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. The four learning styles are:

  1. Diverging: The diverging style of learning is full of learners with a particular viewpoint who look at things. Instead of doing so, they want to watch, and they also have a great ability to imagine. Typically, these learners tend to work in communities, have broad interests in cultures and individuals, and more. They generally concentrate on specific learning and reflective study, preferring to observe the situation and see it before diving.
  2. Assimilating:  This learning style requires extracting direct knowledge from learners. Such learners prefer ideas and abstracts to individuals and explore using theoretical models. These learners in the Experiential learning style concentrate on abstract conceptualization and reflective observation.
  3. Converging: Converging learners are addressing issues. To practical problems, they apply what theyve learned, and prefer technical tasks. They are also known to experiment with new ideas, and abstract conceptualization and active experimentation are the subjects of their learning.
  4. Accommodating: Practicability is favoured by these learners. To help solve issues, they love new tasks and use intuition. When they learn, these learners use realistic learning and constructive exploration.


Experiential Learning Cycle

The way we navigate the cycle of learning varies from person to person. People create preferences for how they use the learning cycle because of personality, educational specialization, professional occupation, community, and adaptive competencies. Nine different ways of navigating the learning cycle through learning styles are defined in the Kolb Learning Style Inventory (LINK). When we are on automatic pilot or under stress, we lead with our preferred style and default to it.


Source: (What Is Experiential Learning? - Institute for Experiential learning, 2021)


Styles of learning are distinct from other typologies that define innate characteristics. Learning styles are learning and living patterns or stable states that require a preference for certain ways of learning and under-use of others. Styles of learning also offer a basis for understanding those whose methods vary from yours. Knowing your patterns in learning styles and knowing the preferred learning styles of others you communicate with helps facilitate constructive experiences, collaboration and relationships.

  1. Experiencing: You are engaged, linked, warm and intuitive by using the experience style. You excel in teamwork and build relationships of confidence with others. With emotional gestures, youre relaxed.
  2. Imagining: Youre loving, trustworthy, empathic and imaginative while using the Imagining style. For some, you show self-awareness and empathy. In uncertain circumstances, youre relaxed, and you enjoy supporting others, developing new ideas and building a vision for the future.
  3. Reflecting: You are polite, cautious and relaxed when using the reflecting form, allowing others to take centre stage. You listen with an open mind and obtain data from several sources. From multiple angles, you can interpret problems and recognise underlying issues and problems.
  4. Analyzing: You are systematic, methodical and accurate by using the Analyzing form. To grasp circumstances, you plan to eliminate errors, combine knowledge to get the full picture and use logical thinking. As you evaluate information and data, you are methodical.
  5. Thinking: You are cynical, organized, linear and controlled when using the thinking form. To evaluate issues and frame claims with logic, you use quantitative instruments. You know how to easily express ideas and make independent decisions.
  6. Deciding: You are rational, accountable and direct when using the Deciding style. You find realistic solutions to issues and set targets for success. One focus you are willing to commit to.
  7. Acting: You are on time, assertive, accomplishment-oriented and brave while using the acting style. Under a deadline, you stick to objectives and goals and find ways to reach them. With restricted capital, you can execute plans.
  8. Initiating: You are outgoing, spontaneous and willing to brush off defeats or \"failure\" by using the initiating form, in favour of attempting again. Without holding back, you deliberately seize chances and participate.
  9. Balancing: You find blind spots in a situation by using the Balancing style, and bridge gaps between individuals. You are resourceful and can adjust to goals that change.


Benefits of Experiential learning



The Experiential learning process includes both self-initiative and self-assessment as well as practical action so that both students and teachers can benefit from Experiential learning experiences in the classroom. The following are some of the benefits of Experiential Learning:

  • Opportunity to apply information instantly: Experiential learning can encourage learners to apply things that they are learning to real-world situations immediately. This allows them to better retain the data.
  • Creates real-world relevance: If they think the content does not apply to the real world, students will tune out lectures. Experiential learning takes data and principles and applies them, generating practical outcomes, to hands-on tasks. It becomes real to them as the student interacts with the data. Of course, the learning experience of each student will be guided by their particular viewpoint, and so each may engage in various ways with the knowledge and the task and will have distinct outcomes. The experiential classroom, in this way, emulates \"real\" society.
  • Teamwork promotion: Experiential learning also requires working as a team, so learning helps learners to practice teamwork in this environment.
  • Provides opportunities for creativity: Issues always have more than one solution in our culture. Experiential learning encourages the student to engage their brains imaginative parts and explore their specific approach to the problem or assignment. This innovative problem-solving, and the variety of outcomes produced, enriches the whole classroom.
  • Enhanced encouragement: Students are more inspired and enthusiastic about learning in immersive environments. For students, experiments are exciting and enjoyable, and theyll be excited about learning.
  • Provides space for reflection: An important part of Experiential learning theory is reflective observation. Students engage more regions of their brains by integrating concrete interactions with abstract ideas and focusing on the result and make personal connections with the material. They examine how the result was influenced by their decisions and how their outcome could have changed from that of other students. This analysis helps them to understand how other situations can be related to the principles they have studied.
  • The chance for reflection: Students using the experience model will spend time focusing on what they are learning and experiencing. This is critical as they can maintain data better when they can worry about whats going on with them.
  • Teaches the importance of mistakes: Trial by error requires Experiential learning. They find that some techniques perform better than others when students participate in hands-on activities. The strategies that do not work are discarded, but the act of trying something and then leaving it becomes a valuable part of the learning process. Students learn not to fear failures, but to take advantage of them and to remember them.
  • Learn from the real world: Students may benefit immensely from preparing to prepare for the real world. To help students learn, Experiential learning focuses on using actual scenarios, so they are then better prepared for their future.
  • Accelerates learning: As described in our article on How the Brain Learns, the act of exercising a skill enhances the brains neural connections, making us \"smarter,\" in effect. Practice, problem-solving, and decision-making are required for hands-on activities. When student interaction through these processes increases, learning speeds up and retention improves.
  • Guides learners to the future: since they are focused on real-world experiences, many Experiential learning initiatives are career-oriented. Students begin to explore and develop their talents, aptitudes, and interests through these activities. This self-discovery sets them on a more established path, including college and jobs, towards what they want to do after graduation.
  • Prepares students for adult life: Most practices of Experiential learning are collective, with groups of students working. Students learn to work together more efficiently through these team ventures, creating an action plan and capitalizing on the specific strengths of each member of the team. Students learn how to lead, how to think critically, and how to respond to changing circumstances.


Experiential Learning Opportunities

When staff participate in Experiential learning opportunities, they gain:

  • A better understanding of course material
  • A broader view of the world and an appreciation of the community
  • Insight into their skills, interests, passions, and values
  • Opportunities to collaborate with diverse organizations and people
  • Positive professional practices and skillsets
  • The gratification of assisting in meeting community needs
  • Self-confidence and leadership skills


Experiential learning Limitations

The theory of Experiential learning by Kolb has constraints. It does not discuss how reflection is influenced by group work and teamwork, nor does it address ways we learn without reflection. It also requires patience and guidance by the teacher/leader which might not be offered. Often one may have more than one right answer and this might be confusing at times and the loss of focus for the student if one has to stay on the tasks.


Experiential learning examples

Experiential learning, while not a typical lecture, takes place in the classroom. The way we consume, store, and research knowledge lies in our experience. Experiential learning is seen every day in several respects. Some instances include:

  • Building skills - as we construct skills, Experiential learning is more likely to occur. It takes experiential experience to learn to throw a fastball. Experiential learning is necessary to engage effectively in a business meeting. Experiential learning is essential to improving (and building) daily skills, whether you are consciously experimenting or watching others in action
  • Going to the zoo by observation to learn about animals, instead of reading about them.
  • Playing or making music - Music is a brilliant example of learning through experience. Did you know that you use more of your brain than any other task while playing an instrument? You see the notes on the paper, you play those notes with your hands and feet, and you learn in real-time through practice. Your brain makes sense of the experience as soon as you hear a note that is out of tune, and you change your breath, the instrument, or something that causes the note to sound sour.
  • Growing a garden rather than watching a movie about it to learn about photosynthesis.
  • Hoping to try to learn to ride on a bicycle, rather than listening to your parent describe the idea


For all how Experiential learning includes the emotions of students when developing their skills and abilities, who would not want to incorporate the practice in their classroom? Also, they feel greater satisfaction and pride when students see the tangible fruits of their study, enhancing their excitement for continued learning.


Kudzai Derera is a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.

LinkedIn: https://zw.linkedin.com/in/kudzaiderera        

Phone: +263 242 481946-48/481950

Email: kudzai@ipcconsultants.com      

Main Website: www.ipcconsultants.com

Kudzai Derera
Super User
This article was written by Kudzai a Super User at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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