Some time ago, I witnessed a profound example of experiential learning through an eight-year-old girl that I was a nanny to.
We would go to the park daily with no agenda other than making sure we got outside, exercised and enjoyed the fresh air. Each day, she would run down to the river and play. At first, I just sat back and let her do what she wanted to do, but after about a week I became curious about what captured her interest at the river every day. So, I did what every experiential learner would do and I asked her.
She replied, “Let me show you.”
This brilliant girl showed me how she had been measuring the water levels with various sticks laying around the shore of the river each day. She measured the levels and noticed how they were affected by the night’s rain and recorded the changes by the length of the sticks. To my amazement, I realized that this eight-year-old child was conducting an earth science lab experiment measuring causes and effects.
This was a perfect example of experiential learning inspired through curiosity. On her own, she figured out how to log her information, worked on a journal and created a constant for this experiment, simply from the desire to know more.
The book “Learning From Experiences” defines Experiential Learning as:
“Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) provides a holistic model of the learning process and a multilinear model of adult development, both of which are consistent with what we know about how people learn, grow, and develop. The theory is called ‘Experiential Learning’ to emphasize the central role that experience plays in the learning process, an emphasis that distinguishes ELT from other learning theories. The term ‘experiential’ is used therefore to differentiate ELT both from cognitive learning theories, which tend to emphasize cognition over affect, and behavioral learning theories that deny any role for subjective experience in the learning process.”
Hands-on learning can be as simple as exploring the world of baking by making a pie, or taking apart an old computer and putting it back together.
Traveling and immersing oneself into a foreign country and learning the language are forms of experiential learning. The memories are richer than simply reading a textbook on the topic, and the experience is real.
There is no doubt that experiential learning is heightened through travel, something that — before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — was becoming an increasingly accepted supplement to standard education in the United States. Most high schools and universities offer study abroad programs and international summer trips available to their student bodies.
The students are taken into the world, allowed to explore, and have a place to return each evening to share, discuss, and build upon their previous knowledge. These are wonderful opportunities for students in school to experience the world, and to be able to discuss what they’ve learned at the end of the day.
A future that includes more experiential travel opportunities will breed life-long learners and people that are involved and passionate about what is going on in the world around them.
This is a world I want to live in.