Why is experiential learning important?
Today's world is dynamic and ever-changing. It's become widely accepted that children born at the late end of the 20th century and subsequent generations can expect to have around five careers over the course of a lifetime. Online classes and specialized skill workshops are becoming easy ways for employees to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and skills necessary to thrive in today's modern workplace. Because of this, increasingly employers are valuing soft skills in potential employees. For most industries, soft skills such as adaptability and empathy are considered just as valuable in a new employee as the skills and qualifications they hold.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that schools integrate new learning techniques to help prepare children for the future workplace. Rote and didactic learning styles have dominated the education system since the industrial revolution. With both these methods, the child plays a relatively passive role in the learning process. In more recent times, it has become common practice for teachers to integrate more active learning techniques in the classroom such as experiential learning.
What is experiential learning?
As the name suggests, experiential learning is the process of learning through experience. Experiential learning theory was initially proposed by psychologist David Kolbwho emphasized how experiences influence the learning process. Kolb defined experiential learning as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combinations of grasping and transforming the experience."
In his experiential learning theory, Kolb described two different ways of grasping experience:
- Concrete Experience
- Abstract Conceptualization
He also identified two ways of transforming experience:
- Reflective Observation
- Active or reflective experimentation
According to Kolb, concrete experience provides information that serves as a basis for reflection. From reflection, we assimilate the information we gathered through a concrete experience and develop new theories about the world which we then actively or reflectively experiment with. Kolb also noted that people who are considered "watchers" prefer reflective observation, while those who are "doers" are more likely to engage in active experimentation.
Experiential learning is becoming far more common in schools and educational institutes around the world. For example, Think Global School is a four-year travelling high school that holds classes in a new country each term. Students can engage in experiential learning through activities such as international travel, cultural exchanges, museum tours, and project-based learning.
What are the benefits of experiential learning?
Over the years, experiential learning has proven to have a wide range of benefits that contribute to a child's development.
Students can better grasp concepts
Students may struggle to grasp concepts that don't pertain to the “real world.” With experiential learning, students are given the opportunity to apply data and ideas in a real-world situation where they too play an active role. As the student interacts with the information, it becomes real to them.
Students have the opportunity to be more creative
Experiential learning is one of the best ways to teach creative problem-solving. With real-world content, children learn that there are multiple solutions to challenges, and they are encouraged to seek their unique solution to hands-on tasks.
Students have the opportunity to reflect
By incorporating concrete experiences with abstract concepts, and then reflecting on the outcome, students engage more regions of their brain and make stronger connections with the material. They are encouraged to analyse how their actions affected the issue, and how their outcome may have varied from other students’. This analysis helps them better understand how the concepts learned can be applied to other, varied circumstances.
Students’ mistakes become valuable experiences
As students engage in hands-on tasks, they will find some approaches work better than others. They discard the methods that don’t work, but the act of trying something and then abandoning it – ordinarily considered a “mistake” – becomes a valuable part of the learning process. Students learn not to fear mistakes, but to value them.
Teachers often observe improved attitudes toward learning
Experiential learning is designed to engage students' emotions as well as enhancing their knowledge and skills. Playing an active role in the learning process can lead to students experiencing greater gratification in learning.
How you can incorporate experiential learning in the classroom
One of the easiest ways to ensure students are exposed to experiential learning is by incorporating off-site school trips and project-based learning into the curriculum. One example could be participating in a marine science workshop at your local aquarium or art workshop at your local art gallery.
A more comprehensive experiential learning opportunity would be an international school trip. International school trips give students the chance to experience a completely new culture and step outside their comfort zone away from the comfort of friends, family and familiar surroundings.