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2.13 Why Use Experiential Learning?

Use Experiential Learning To:

  • Increase learning
  • Increase motivation
  • Increase in meaning for the learners
  • Emphasizes connectiveness with the content and experiences

Experiential Learning Methods:

  • Offer Active rather than passive involvement
  • Are Experience based
  • Relate experiences to the participants previous and possible future experiences
  • Create a problem-posing and-solving atmosphere
  • Form a dialogue between the student and the teacher
  • Provide Active reflection

Attributes of Experiential Learning

  1. Action: the learner is not a passive receptacle but an active participant; and there is physical movement, not just sitting.
  2. Reflection: learning only occurs after the action is reflected upon.
  3. Phenomenological: objects or situations are described without assigning values, meanings or interpretations; the learner must ascribe meaning to what is going on; and the facilitator’s meaning must not be automatically forced upon the student.
  4. Subjective Human Experience: a view of the world that is the learner’s not the facilitator’s.
  5. Human Experience as a Source of Learning: “experiential learning then is an attempt to make use of human experience as part of the learning process” (p. 14, Burnard 1989)

Characteristics of Experiential Learning

  1. Student-Based Rather Than Teacher-Based: the learning encounter starts with the students’ ideas and concepts rather than the teacher’s or the book’s.
  2. Personal not Impersonal Nature: personal experiences and personal growth are valued in the classroom.
  3. Process and Product Orientation: emphasis is placed as much on learning as it is on the “right” answer.
  4. Evaluation for Internal and External Reasons: assessment is considered to be a learning experience that the students can learn to do on their own.
  5. Holistic Understanding and Component Analysis: students are urged to fully understand the content through the analysis of primary sources of the material and/or experiences with the material.
  6. Organized Around Experience: the students previous experiences are taken into account when creating the curriculum, as well as the new experiences that will be provided in the classroom, lab, or field trip.
  7. Perception-Based Rather Than Theory-Based: “experiential learning emphasizes a student?s ability to justify or explain a subject rather than recite an expert’s testimony” (p. 20)
  8. Individual-Based Rather Than Group-Based: group identity and socialization skills are stressed, however, emphasis is placed on the individual learning within the group rather then on the group as a whole; criterion-referenced rather than norm-referenced. Joplin (1981)


Burnard, P. (1989) Teaching Interpersonal Skills: A Handbook of Experiential Learning for Health Professionals. London: Chapman & Hall.

Joplin, L. (1981) On Defining Experiential Education. Journal of Experiential Education, 4 (1), 17-20.

Be sure to take the Self Test at the top of the page before proceeding to your next unit,2.14 How to Design and Use the Experiential Learning Cycle

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