August 16, 2013

Experiential Learning Theory

An “experience,” according to the dictionary, is “a particular instance of personally encountering or undergoing something.”

There’s one word in there that sticks out to me, and that’s “personally”—that word makes all the difference between an experiential and a more traditional or typical take on education.

Each human has their own set of unique experiences—no two people will ever match in that. So, then, it makes sense that our own experiences are the best way for us to feel out how we fit into this world. Our experiences give us each a different take on the world and the way we see it; and because our experiences are things we undergo, things we can’t escape, they allow us to learn deeply and thoroughly. More “traditional” education—typical classes, coursework, exams—differs in these two aspects. First off, it’s typically much less personal—thousands of people simultaneously take the same classes around the world, all generally learning the same thing. Secondly, this kind of learning is not so much something you “undergo” as something you memorize, cram, or otherwise trick yourself into remembering. Instead of being viewed as the incredible opportunity it is, and therefore fully embraced, it’s far too often treated as a burden, a problem, something at times even irritating—a stressor, rather than a gift. That mindset isn’t beneficial to learning, and takes any of the deserved joy and appreciation right out of it, which is a serious drawback.

But beyond that, this sentiment that experience is a better teacher than books easily proves itself if you just think about it in your own life. What do you remember more from elementary, middle, or even high school? Is it friends you hung out with, teams you were a part of, jobs you had, events you organized, trips you took? Or is it learning all the capitals of the United States for social studies class, the math tests, or the book reports you wrote? I know what it is for me.

By Jen Kelso

Jen Kelso is earning bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies, while simultaneously exercising her creative side. She loves a great story, environmental sustainability innovations, spending time in bookstores, the smell and feel of good earthy dirt, writing, exploring new places, learning about ecology, staying up all night, and any way that she can connect these interests. Though she is still in the process of figuring out how she’s going to combine all of this to make the world a better place, she has a feeling she’s getting closer to the answer.

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