Pedagogy of Experiential Education

In its simplest form, experiential learning means learning from experience or learning by doing.  Experiential education first immerses learners in an experience and then encourages reflection about the experience to develop new skills, new attitudes, or new ways of thinking.
-Lewis & Williams (1994)

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

Kolb’s (1984) model of experiential learning is one of the most widely used theoretical frameworks in education. The model is grounded in a constructivist and development perspective of learning. Experience itself plays a key role in learning, however it is only one phase in Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. Students can enter learning at an place but all stages in the cycle must be addressed for meaningful learning to occur.

Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle begins with a concrete experience followed by reflective observation into abstract conceptualization then active experimentation

Phases of Experiential Learning

Concrete Experience – Students actively engage in an experience.

Reflective Observation – Students reflect on the experience, identifying any connections, inconsistencies, or alignment between the experience and their prior knowledge.

Conceptual Thinking – Through reflection, students generate new understandings/ideas or modifies their existing conceptualization of an idea/concept in order to draw conclusions and make hypotheses.

Active Experimentation – Students plan and test their conclusions/hypotheses by applying their knowledge to new experiences.

Impact on Student Outcomes

  • Increased student persistence and plans to re-enroll.
  • First-year students engaged civically through service learning were more likely than non-service-learning peers to indicate they planned to re-enroll and eventually graduate from their current institution.
  • An increase in students’ content knowledge and skills.
  • Statistically higher outcomes in application of coursework to everyday life than comparable students not engaged in experiential learning.
  • Improved higher-order thinking skills—an ability to demonstrate greater complexities of understanding.
  • Statistically significant increases in ability to analyze increasingly complex problems.
  • Significant increases in students’ critical thinking abilities.
  • Increases students’ self-esteem.
  • Enhances students’ sense of self-efficacy and empowerment.
  • Increases students’ likelihood to engage in prosocial behaviors and decreases students’ likelihood to engage in at-risk behaviors.
  • Provides a positive effect on students’ motivation for learning.

Experiential Education vs. Experiential Learning

Experiential education (EE) is defined as the philosophical process that guides the development of structural and functional learning experiences. Experiential learning (EL) is defined as the specific techniques or mechanisms that an individual can implement to acquire or meet learning goals (Roberts, 2012).

For the purpose of conversations and resources at Brock, “experiential education” is the term employed from the broader philosophical and institutional perspective, and “experiential learning” will be used when referring to learning-specific categories of the experience types or when discussing students in the learning process.

Scholarship of Experiential Education

Research on experiential education has a rich history. To learn more about the scholarship of EE please visit some of the prominent journals from the field:

Learn more about research and scholarship being conducted by Brock faculty on experiential learning:

  • Harry Smaller, Michael O’Sullivan, Ashley Rerrie & Xiochilt Hernandez. (2018). International service learning and global citizenship. For whom? In L. Shultz & T. Pillay (Eds.) Global citizenship education: Common wealth and uncommon citizenship. Rotterdam: Brill Publishers

    Joe Norris & Olenka Bilash. (2016). A journey towards mutualist teaching and learning: A collaborative reflective practice on community building and democratic classrooms. In R.D. Sawyer & Joe Norris (Eds.) Interdisciplinary Reflective Practice through Duoethnography: Examples for Educators. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Hilary Brown, R.D. Sawyer & Joe Norris. (Eds.) (2016). Forms of Practitioner Reflexivitity: Critical, Conversational, and Arts-Based Approaches. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Gail Frost, Maureen Connolly & Elyse Lappano. (2014). Why is it so hard to do a good thing? The challenges of using reflection to help sustain a commitment to learning. In C. Chiapetta Swanson, E. Allard, E. Aspenlieder, J. Raffoul & C. Teeter (Eds.) Collected Essays in Learning and Teaching. Windsor, ON: Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

    Mary Breunig & Samantha Dear. (2013). Experiential education, social and environmental justice pedagogices and globalization: From theory to praxis. In K. Schwab & D. Dustin (Eds.) Just Leisure. Urbana, IL: Sagamore.

    Tim O’Connell & Jane Dyment. (2013). Theory into practice: Unlocking the power and potential of reflective journals. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

    Thomas Farrell. (2007). Reflective language teaching: From research to practice. New York, NY: Continuum.

    Joe Norris, Laura McCammon & Carol Miller (Eds.). (2000). Learning to teach drama: A case narrative approach. Heinermann.

    Paula Gardener & Rio Alegre (2019) –“Just like us”: Increasing awareness, promoting action and combating ageism through a critical intergenerational service learning project. Educational Gerontology.

    David Hutchison (2018) – Scaffolding project management best practices through experiential learning in a large enrolment online course. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal.

    Mary Breunig (2017) – Experientially learning and teaching in a student-directed classroomJournal of Experiential Education.

    Mary-Beth Raddon & Barbara Harrison (2017). Is service-learning the kind face of the neo-liberal university? Canadian Journal of Higher Education.

    Ryan Howard, Tim O’Connell & Anna Lathrop (2016). Community development, transitional value, and institutional affinity: Outdoor orientation program impacts. Journal of Experiential Education.

    Tim O’Connell, Janet Dyment & Heidi Smith (2015) – Students’ appropriation, rejection and perceptions of creativity in reflective journals. International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education.

    Gail Frost & Maureen Connolly (2015). The road less travelled? Pathways from passivity to agency in student learning. Collected Essays on Learning & Teaching.

    Erin Sharpe & Samantha Dear (2013). Points of discomfort: Reflections on power and partnerships in international service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning.

    Kai-Yu Wang (2018). Six steps for search engine marketing learning. Marketing Management Association Fall Educators Conference.

    Staci Kenno & Glenn Skrubbeltrang (2017). Service learning in an introductory management accounting class. American Accounting Association (AAA) Conference.

    Mary Breunig (2010) – Research as experiential practice: Opening address for the Symposium on Experiential Education Research (SEER).

    Mary-Beth Raddon, Caleb Nault & Alexis Scott (2007). “Learning by doing” revisited: The complete research project approach to teaching qualitative methods. American Sociological Association Annual Meeting.

    Experiential Education Teaching Awards

    There are multiple national and international awards for excellence in teaching through experiential education pedagogies. The Centre for Pedagogical Innovation can support you in preparing your application for these awards: