Experiential Learning

I’ve recently been working with educators around Experiential Learning. I’ve always thought of it to be a hands-on or immersive experience for students but as I dig into it a little further, I’m realizing that it’s much more. I’ve been taking a closer look at the Ministry of Education’s Community Connected Experiential Learning resource and it’s been eye opening. This document was written after the Ministry’s Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario. In it, a variety of themes emerged; one being “to foster student engagement and achievement by creating more relevant, applied and innovative learning experiences that spark students’ curiosity and inspire them to follow their passions” (p. 4). That’s what learning should be all about! Sparking curiosity and allowing students to identify and follow their passions. It’s when students see relevance and meaning in the learning, that they get excited and motivated to actively engage and consider appropriate life applications

The document breaks down the Experiential Learning Cycle into 3 parts: Participate, Reflect and Apply. It’s really about sharing the What, So What and Now What.

What

The document describes this phase as, “Students are immersed in an experience, acknowledging what they are doing, what they are thinking, Andrew’s was what they are feeling during the experience.” (pg. 9). So from the beginning, I think that the experience should be one in which students are consulted so that they have voice and choice in the planning of the experience itself. Not only should they be participants, but they also have the opportunity to think about what they are doing, thinking and feeling during the experience. I think this can be done in a variety of ways. Having students utilize a type of field guide as they work or perhaps having them create some quick videos about their learning while in the process of participating in the experience. The goal is to have the student as an “active participant in the experience, not merely an observer of it”. (pg. 8). Are these concepts on our radar when planning field trips or experiential opportunities for our students? Do we take the time to consider the value in the learning from their perspective? Is that truly what the experience is all about or is it based on an opportunity that comes up for us?

So What

In this phase, “Students think about their experience, guided by reflective questions and prompts, and identify what they learned as a result of the experience – about themselves, other people, the world, their opportunities, or the subject of study.” (pg. 10). This is bigger than just thinking about the field trip that they went on and whether or not they liked it. The goal of the reflection is truly to answer the question of so what. Some questions that come to mind for the educator are:

  • Now that we’ve had this experience, so what?
  • What have we learned? What makes the experience meaningful?
  • What skills might we have attained or used during this time?
  • Why might they be important to us?
  • It’s much more than a summary of the event. In what ways are students being guided to reflect after attending a field trip or experience?
  • What open questions might support a deepening of their reflection?

Going a little further, here are a few reflective questions that I thought could be posed to students:

  1. What skills did you use in order to achieve success today?
  2. Describe another instance in which you used the same skills in order to be successful.
  3. Now that you’ve had the opportunity to participate in this experience, how might this impact your own life and some of the decisions you make?

Now What

Lastly, this phase is described as, “Students describe how their learning stimulates further inquiry; how it has influenced – or may influence – their decisions, opinions, goals, and plans; and what they might do differently if they have a similar experience in future.” (pg. 10). Now that they have experienced and reflected, now what? Will there be any transformation in the student’s life? How does this experience impact the choices they’ll make in the future in relation to this experience and others? Experiential learning is about driving action for our students and getting them to think about what will be different. They’ve had a spark, scratched the surface, the wheels are in motion, and hopefully they have connected with their passion. How will they use this to impact the world in a positive way? How will this help them to see themselves as change agents or individuals who can have an impact?

Taking all this into consideration, my reflection on what I thought were experiential opportunities for students now prove to be only the tip of the iceberg. There could have been so much more to the experience that would have made the learning more in depth. I would offer that if the experiences we are providing for students are called “experiential”, we need to ensure that they are meeting the criteria outlined here. Otherwise, I would have to say that they are field trips, which – don’t get me wrong – provide value but are not experiential learning opportunities.

Although I’ve asked a lot of questions so far, you know that most often I ask a question or two to close my posts. Here are a few that I’ll ask in hopes of starting a conversation:

  1. How do we deepen learning experiences to make them truly experiential?
  2. In what ways are we ensuring that we are allowing students to get that spark and connect to their passions?

There are some really great examples of experiential learning in the resource. Take a look and I would also love to hear what you’re doing in your classrooms and schools!

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Updated: November 29, 2018 — 10:35 pm

The Author

Arianna Lambert

I’m an Education Lead at Future Design School. I work with educators throughout North America, creating exceptional learning experiences that develop Future-Ready skills in students. I’m currently on leave from the Toronto District School Board where I was a 2018 recipient of a TDSB Excellence Award for #tdsbEd, Twitter chats for educators. Through conversations on trends in Education from STEAM to Mindfulness, it has become an online community of educators dedicated to improving their practice to ensure greater student success, well-being and achievement.

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