Experiential Learning

Thursday, 21 Mar 2019

Experiential learning in its tightest definition is “learning by doing”. The student is, therefore, actively engaged in the educational process, not just a passive participant. The content, idea or concept being pursued must be relevant or interesting to the student. In a more broader definition, experiential learning is concerned with supporting student growth. It is important in today’s context as our next generation need to be adaptable, tenacious, courageous and inventive. They need to be problem solvers or as I have read recently they need to be solutions oriented. I also believe that our students need the world prepared essentials of teamwork, an appreciation of diversity and a sense of civic responsibility. Effective experiential learning sows the seed within our students that “there is more in you than you think”.

Kurt Hahn, industrialist, educator and founder of two international organisations (Outward Bound and Round Square) coined the term experiential learning. He stated, “I regard it (experiential learning) as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion.”

What does experiential learning look like beyond the normal classroom? Schools can engage their students through a raft of programs from mock-trials or debates about issues that relate to them, to business internships, to outdoor education camps where students take the responsibility to organise and lead. Other opportunities in schools can involve undertaking drills to improve skills in sports or musical pursuits or using active learning strategies to engage English and language learning. Community service is also an essential part of building an effective experiential learning program. The school fence should not limit the opportunities for student engagement or growth potential. Students need to feel part of the community not just a subsection of it. Scientific experiments need to have open-ended problems or have a problem-solving component. Case studies, in the humanities, need to have both a local and global context. ICT needs to support the educational process and build our capacity to communicate without boundaries.

Schools are generally on this pathway however to inspire your local school whether it be public, Catholic or independent I encourage you to ask some key questions of your school’s principal around experiential learning.

  • Are students encouraged to make discoveries for themselves?
  • Are students challenged to take responsibility for their own learning journey?
  • Is school feedback encouraged?
  • Do students understand the connections between their curriculum and their personal lives?
  • Is there a sense of connectedness between the classroom and their local or global community?
  • Are there opportunities for students to reflect quietly on their own actions and learnings and to set goals for improvement?
  • Are students extended beyond in their own physical, social and cultural comfort zones?
  • Does the school encourage environmental stewardship, leadership, service, and adventure in our natural environment?
  • Is the school preparing their child for an exciting but rapidly changing future?

Nick Johnstone