Experiential learning: Learning through experience

Have you ever burnt a cake despite following the recipe word for word? Maybe your oven was too hot, maybe you missed something or maybe you just set the timer wrong. Either way, you were devastated. Your hopes of a culinary masterpiece up in flames.

Perhaps, you gave up after that and never baked again. Hopefully however, you gave it a second go and long before the cake could burn, you were there...ready! If so, you turned your failure into success and overcame the slight on your culinary prowess. You learnt from your experiences and tweaked your behaviour to achieve a better result. This type of experiential learning is a powerful tool and can be applied to situations far more important than cake making.

In your teaching, experiential learning can help to stir passions, reinforce ideas and build critical thinking amongst your students. In this blog post, we provide you with a few simple steps for its implementation in your classroom. Ready? Let’s dive in.

Firstly, what is experiential learning?

Essentially experiential learning is seeing a change in behaviour as a result of a reflection on a real life experience. For experiential learning to occur there needs to be a real life situation that is novel and the opportunity to reflect and gain insight on how you can improve next time. There are four stages to experiential learning:

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The  learning itself occurs at the insight and action stages where results are assessed in light of the mistakes, outcomes and successes.

Put simply, rather than just understanding a topic, we gain skills, develop habits and our behaviour changes as a result our experiences. For example, If you burn a cake, you’re not just going to read the recipe next time, you will also check it before the timer goes off.

 Why is this important?

Learning through experience is important because it solidifies learning which affects lasting behaviours.cta 4

If students engage in experiential learning, they develop critical thinking skills, are able to reflect upon decisions, can take initiative for their actions and gain an understanding of how their actions directly impact results. In other words, experiential learning engages students as they interact and take control of their own learning. 

SO how is it incorporated in the classroom?

After you’ve established that you want to teach your students something through experience then it’s time to get creative!

Say for example, you are a STEAM subject teacher and are teaching your students about astronomy. You’ve been through the textbook, you’ve watched videos and have had a classroom discussion about life on mars. Now it’s time to bring experience into the equation. The most transferable and marketable skills are forged in “real world” settings so take the real world to your students OR take your students to the real world. 

  • Firstly, you can look locally

There are usually good options for experiential learning locally. For example, for the past 3 years, here in Wanaka, NZ students have been lucky enough to watch the NASA balloon take off and experience a piece of NASA history for themselves. The first two flights weren’t as successful as the third and the reason they kept getting better is that NASA’s has learnt from past mistakes in its balloon design.

Using the same principles, a teacher here had students improve their paper plane designs and used that to talk about the changes made with the NASA balloon – bringing the textbook to life.

  • Or, you can think internationally

Take your students on an adventure to the home of NASA and visit the Kennedy Space centre, where your students can indulge in one of five educational space camps. Why not join Space Treks Near Space Investigation camp, where students build and test their own weather balloon! RSS Guilford experienced this in April and had a successful launch.

Not only will you make autonomous learners, you will deepen their learning through the natural reflection that will occur.

If you looking for some inspiration for experience learning opportunities request one of our six sample itineraries today and start gathering ideas for your school’s trip.


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