Taking Students Outside the Classroom: Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning is very similar to project based learning in that students learn through doing, except in projected- based learning learning develops from reflecting on the product of the project. Experiential learning develops in the reflection of the experience and the hands on work.  The Experiential Learning Center at the University of Colorado Denver defines experiential learning as, “a process through which students develop knowledge, skills, and values from direct experiences outside a traditional academic setting…Learning that is considered “experiential” contain all the following elements:

  1. Reflection, critical analysis and synthesis
  2. Opportunities for students to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results
  3. Opportunities for students to engage intellectually, creatively, emotionally, socially, or physically
  4. A designed learning experience that includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes, and successes” (http://www.ucdenver.edu/life/services/ExperientialLearning/about/Pages/WhatisExperientialLearning.aspx)

Experiential Learning means learning through experience. There are many reasons why experiential learning is important in classrooms. Learning through traditional repetitive direct instruction does not engage interest, maintain attention, or spark retention. Experiential learning allows students to critically think, problem solve, and make decisions on their own. All of these qualities in experiential learning produce accelerated learning, increase in attention and interest, and encourages retention. Learning through experience allows students to personalize their learning and make a connection to their learning and their daily lives. Besides those obvious benefits, experiential learning helps to encourage emotional, social, and cognitive maturity by allowing the students to utilize their independence while learning. (https://elearningindustry.com/8-reasons-experiential-learning-future-learning)

Experiential learning is much more than just doing activities. Experiential learning exercises need to follow a model:Image result for experiential learning model

First, students will experience the idea. The students will then reflect and share their learning from the experience. The class will then process the experience together and “generalize” what they learned by demonstrating how the same experience happens on a larger scale in the outside world. Finally, the students will take their learning and apply it on their own in the world outside the classroom. Only when all of these steps are followed has experiential learning occurred.

A classroom using experiential learning will look entirely different from the traditional classroom. Students will be doing the curriculum and experiencing it rather than just sitting and having the information delivered to them. For example,

If you were to walk in on a classroom using experiential learning, the classroom would appear entirely different from the traditional classroom. Students would be engaged in learning experiences, often these experiences don’t even take place in the classroom. Field trips, outside learning activities, experiential learning can take place anywhere. If experiential learning is occurring in the classroom, the classroom is transformed into a place where students are “doing” and “experiencing” the curriculum. The students are engaged in their learning and they are responsible for their own learning. You will not see a teacher spoon feeding information to their students in a classroom, you will see students critically thinking and participating in hands on learning.


In this video, we see an example of students learning about population density through experiential learning.  The teacher doesn’t just talk about population density but he has an activity that allows the students to experience population density first hand. Also, the students reflect on their learning with partners and share with the class. A class discussion reveals that the students learned about contamination problems among big populations and many  other aspects of population density without the teacher introducing this information. The students were able to draw this learning from the experience on their own with little guidance from the teacher.

Here are some experts in experiential learning to follow on twitter: @mpowers3 








10 thoughts on “Taking Students Outside the Classroom: Experiential Learning

  1. As you were researching did you find yourself relating to facts said about the learning approach? Or did you find yourself thinking that wasn’t your style at all? For me, this is something I related to a lot! It’s fun to see the different ways people think and learn best. Thank you for sharing?


  2. This approach, in my opinion, is one of the greatest ever! I also chose this and found myself relating to a lot of the things they were saying. It’s important to let the students really go out and experience the things we are teaching.


  3. This style of learning is the best I think simply because learning from your mistakes is a part of life and often times in school we are punished for mistakes and not given any chance to correct them.


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