Help your students learn more with experiential learning
Experiential learning is having a bit of a moment in education circles. The leading journals are discussing it, all the big conferences have sessions on it, and every principal wants it in their school. So, what exactly is experiential learning and how can you incorporate it into your classroom?
It is formally defined as “learning through reflection on doing,” but what does that really mean? It means that students get a lesson on a topic and then perform a hands-on activity that drives the point home. That could be a science experiment, baking a cake, building a Lego robot, or role playing as world leaders. Students end with a reflection that encapsulates what they learned, what worked well—or didn’t—and how they can improve for the next time.
As the experiential portion of the lesson is often performed by groups of students working together, they learn from one another. With online and blended learning courses, students can collaborate with peers from around the world on lessons and projects. This affords them the opportunity to learn from those with dramatically different backgrounds than those who sit next to them in class.
With experiential learning, the focus switches from the teacher standing in front of a classroom full of docile students imparting wisdom to the teacher helping students as they explore on their own. It’s not so much about transferring knowledge as it is about developing skills through experience.
Giving students something tangible to interact with, instead of just asking them to listen to a lecture, helps them stay engaged with the material and absorb more of it. It is one thing to know that energy is added to copper electrons when exposed to fire, and something entirely different to place a piece of copper into a flame and watch it turn green.
Reflecting upon what was done and learned, and making those personal, long lasting connections, is really what makes experiential education valuable. Students may discover their love for automobile repair by taking auto shop, or that they are entrepreneurs at heart by operating a concession stand at school sporting events. Others may discover a passion for international trade at the Y20 gathering in advance of the G20 summit of world leaders. True to its name, experiential learning can open up new worlds for students.
By engaging students more deeply in the lesson, they can clearly see how their own actions affect the outcome. Watching their hard work pay off before their eyes will not only help them retain more of the material, but it can only increase their enthusiasm for learning. What a lesson that is.