Theory of Experiential Education

11 05 2012

The practice of “Learning by Doing,” Experiential Education is a foundational educational approach to learning new information or behaviors.  It is the idea that people learn best while experiencing the material, being immersed, “failing-forward”, adjusting and adapting, while getting direct feedback. 

It is more characterized by Doing & Thinking, Doing & Thinking, Doing & Thinking, etc… 

Photo by Lance Eagen

People like John Dewey, Kurt Hahn, and more recently Sir Ken Robinson embrace this teaching style in their writings and profession.  The reason is because what is being learned is itself real.  Dewey has been summarized to state that:

  • Individuals need to be involved in what they are learning
  • What is being taught must be immediately relevant
  • Individuals must act and live for the present as well as the future
  • Learning must assist learners in preparing for a changing world 

There are essentially 2 ways to learn; Experience and Memorization.

 Experience    —    More Emotion    —    More Engaging    —    Less Controlled            More Effective

 Memorization    —    Less Emotion    —    Less Engaging    —    More Controlled            Less Effective

Think of memorization as “information assimilation.” Learning is achieved by going from Structure to Substance: 

  1. Receiving information about a general principle via symbols
  2. Assimilate and organize information as new knowledge
  3. Infer specific application from general principles
  4. Act on the application and test the general principle

(a great example is learning your multiplication tables.)

 Consider the Experiential approach.  Learning is achieved by going from Substance to Structure: 

  1. Acting and Observing cause and effect of that action
  2. Understanding cause and effect to predict a general principle
  3. Understanding general principles in various circumstances
  4. Applying general principles in a new situation

The intent here is to not pit these two approaches against each other, rather identify which approach, or maybe the combination of approaches, may be more beneficial and therefore appropriate. 

If you are involved in teaching, consider your approach.  Is there opportunity for people to learn by doing, or to be more engaged in their learning and create their own emotions to enhance what is being learned? 

-Robert Brack, Spencer Butte Challenge Course Director

**By the way, if you are bored after reading this AND have seen the weather report for the Eugene area this week (Sunny, 80, and Lovely!), then I do not know why you are still here Go Outside and Play!**

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