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Creating a New Kind of Learning Experience

Guest Writer: Karen Brinkley-Etzkorn

thCAIZAMA6Many of us on campus have been thinking about experiential learning during the last year. Did you know that Experience Learning is our new Quality Enhancement Plan? (If you’re also wondering what a QEP is – you can read more here) – or, just know that it’s a key part of our SACS reaccreditation process. As you can imagine, Experience Learning is a broad, but exciting, topic to consider as we kick off the new fall semester. Often a misunderstood topic, many people see experiential learning as a set of specific techniques, or simply a mundane experience for students. However, experiential learning is a philosophy of learning that, unlike the more traditional cognitive or behavioral theories of learning, emphasizes the key role that experience plays in the learning process (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). To further explain, below are a six key propositions that are helpful in understanding this more holistic learning approach (Kolb, 1984):

  • Learning is best understood as a process rather than an outcome. When learning expectations are fixed, as they are with learning outcomes, it might be easier to measure how much a student has actually learned. The difference with experiential learning is the belief that one’s ideas or learned information are actually shaped by experiences, so that learning may look somewhat different for different students.
  • Experiences continually shape our learning. That is, beliefs and ideas are continually examined, tested, and ultimately combined with new ideas in the learning process.
  • Learning is holistic. Learning isn’t merely a single realm of human function; rather, it is an ongoing process that involves multiple facets of thinking, feeling, perceiving, and behaving.
  • Learning requires the resolution of conflict. The acquisition of new knowledge, abilities, or attitudes may be achieved through confronting four types of experiential learning: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.
  • Learning involves transactions between learners and their environments. The word transaction here is important because, unlike an interaction, both the person and in many cases the environment is essentially changed after having come together.
  • The process of learning creates new knowledge. Experiential learning approaches the process as constructive in which social knowledge is acquired and recreated as personal knowledge for the learner.

Many of us are probably more familiar with the out-of-class experiences such as internships, clinicals, fellowships, field work, practicums, service learning, and student teaching. But, if you are interested in integrating some experiential learning into a course you teach this year, don’t worry about needing a new course design or any extensive planning. There are smaller opportunities you can create as well. Some of these possibilities include:

It is important to remember: assessment of students’ experiential learning is equally important, and may include formative assessment, summative assessment, or a combination of the two. In terms of how you may evaluate students’ experiences, Moon (2004) suggests the following:

  • Maintaining a learning journal or portfolio
  • Writing a reflective essay or on critical incidents
  • Presenting to the class on what was learned
  • Self-awareness or self-assessment tools such as questionnaires
  • Completing a group project to develop ideas further
  • Reviewing a book that links an experience or activity to the student’s discipline
  • Reporting on the ethical issues that could or did arise in the experience
  • Recommending improving some aspect of practice based on the experience

cogsWurdinger and Carlson (2010) offer ten tips for instructors as they begin integrating experiential learning opportunities into their classrooms:

  • Allow yourself to accept a new role in the classroom – one that is not teacher-centered
  • Clarify what your role and what the student’s role will be in the experience
  • Approach this experience in a positive way
  • Identify an interesting experience for students
  • Link the experience to the objectives of your course
  • Explain the purpose of the activity or experience to your students
  • Provide resources and/or materials that will help your students be successful
  • Promote open communication and shared learning – let them know you are learning, too
  • Allow students to experiment, discover, and learn on their own
  • Find a balance in the activity (an in yourself) between an academic and nurturing opportunity

As we embark on an exciting new year of teaching and learning, we hope you’ll consider joining us to continue the discussion of experiential learning both inside and outside of the classroom. You have the opportunity to earn a certificate in Experiential Teaching by completing the entire workshop series. You may also choose to attend just one or two that resonate with your work. We look forward to experiencing learning with you!

And as always, we want to hear what you’re doing! Please share your experiential learning ideas on our Facebook page!



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Bart, M. (2012, Nov. 9). Reap the benefits of experiential learning without leaving the classroom. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from: .

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Kays, A. B., Kays, D. C., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Experiential learning in teams. Simulation and Gaming, 36, 1-25.

Kolb, A. Y. (2002). The evolution of a conversational learning space. In Conversational learning: An experiential approach to knowledge creation, Baker, A., Jensen, P. J., & Kolb, D. A. (Eds.) Westport, CT: Quorum Books.

Kolb, D. A. Experiential learning: Experiences as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kolb, A. Y. & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 4(2), 193-212.

Mont, M. (2014). The use of debates in higher education classrooms. Proceedings for the 2014 Adult Education Research Conference. Retrieved from:

Moon, J. A. (2004). A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice. New York, NY: Routledge Falmer.

Schwartz, M. (n.d.). Best practices in experiential learning. The Learning and Teaching Office, Ryerson University. Retrieved from:

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