Adult Learner

Systems Change
Adult Learner > Strategies > Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning


Experiential learning is learning by doing, which may include self-directed learning activities. Helping learners make sense of experiences is foundational to adult learning. There are four key elements of experiential learning: concrete experience, reflection and observation, development of new ideas, and experimenting with new ideas. Active participation in experiential learning benefits both learners and the community. Adult learners gain concrete experiences and reflect on them by comparing the new experiences with Background Knowledge. It fosters the upgrading of life skills, such as a respect for diversity, exposure to multiple perspectives, and offers opportunities for critical reflection and Cognitive Flexibility. Experiential learning can also foster personal autonomy, self-fulfillment, interpersonal effectiveness and Social Awareness and Relationship Skills.

Use It In Your Learning Environment

Experiential learning makes it possible for learners to face unknown situations and problems in a real world context. To make a decision, learners often need to consider what they know, what they don't know, and how they can learn it. This motivates learners to reflect on their knowledge, transfer Background Knowledge to a new context, acquire new ideas, improve Oral Communication Skills, and build a Learner Mindset. Important to note, the instructor moves into the role of a facilitator rather than directing the students' progress, often through the use of higher level questioning.

Designing experiential learning to provoke natural curiosity and emotional highs can lead to higher levels of engagement and Motivation. Six themes characterize more positive Emotions in experiential learning: first-time experiences, facing the unknown, unexpected discoveries, being on a journey, sense of change, and meaningful learning. These elements can lead to a sense of enrichment, expansion, and development in adult learners. Ethical design will ensure the following: informed student choice with authentic options, avoiding bias in debriefing questions and expectations, debriefing that maximizes reflection and concept development, transparency that avoids deception, and meaningful feedback with an asset lens.

Experiential learning opportunities that allow learners to apply their learning to long-term projects or jobs outside the classroom are key to workforce success. Examples of experiential learning include case studies, projects, internships, creative performance exhibits, project-based learning, field experience, hackathons, laboratories, place-based education, pitch competitions, clinical rounds, job shadowing, co-ops, practicums, service learning, simulations, studios, community engaged research, and international learning experiences.