What is Experiential Learning and Why is it Important?

By Deputy Principal, Liana Gooch

One of the most important learning processes is that ‘aha’ moment, the action of learning, known as experiential learning. This is learning via reflection and application of information in a new situation, often by doing.

As a teacher, I have observed students experience clarity through experiential learning. For example, coastal physical processes may have been a complex process to in learning via classroom delivery can suddenly become crystal clear when they are able to observe and reflect upon something occurring in the field.

New experiences, new ideas and concepts, new situations

The inclusion of out of classroom trips and tours are incredibly vital for learning and as the 2008 Ofsted Report indicated, a well-planned and implemented program beyond the classroom can significantly contribute to raising learning standards and ‘…improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.’  At Korowa, drawing upon the Kolb and Kolb model of experiential learning, a child initially encounters a new experience or a reinterpretation of something already experienced. Reflection follows to identify any gaps in experience and understanding.  New ideas and concepts are formed. Finally, students are then able to apply this learning to new situations.  Evidently, our upcoming Trips and Tours are crucial for our students’ learning process to acquire new knowledge and skills but also to apply prior learning to new situations.

Creating student bonds through mutual experiences

All of our Trips and Tours in Years 5, 6 7, 8 and 10 are valuable for establishing friendships and bonds but also provide opportunities for challenge, action and new experiences.

Year 5 students in Jungai will embrace an array of outdoor education challenges while building relationships. Year 6 students will observe the political process in action on their Canberra trip.

The highly engaging nature of these experiences, and the wide variety of new environments, allow students to maximise their prior learning. Nadelson and Jordan (2012) identified that excursions assist students in recalling classroom learning.  Experiences during the Trips and Tours also can help develop empathy to assist students in identifying and exploring human needs – an important step in the design process to authentically identify problems to design solutions.  For example, our Year 7 Northern Territory trip focuses on indigenous culture and remote landscapes. Experiencing these new environments contributes greatly to students’ understanding of community needs and links well with the Tech and Enterprise challenge of remote community house design.

In February, Year 9 students will undertake a ‘Project Empathy’ exploring homelessness in Melbourne and considering solutions to address this. Our Year 8 Cairns trip emphasises sustainability, and expands on this theme through the curriculum during the year. Year 10 students in Tasmania focus on challenge to further develop leadership and resiliency.

The role parents play

Parents also play a critical role in providing your child with new learning experiences to create new knowledge as well as to apply prior learning to new situations. In class, students often refer to a family visit or trip which relates to the class discussion. That experience can validate your child’s understanding and also assist other students in broadening their views. Consider how over the recent Summer break, you may have visited a new location, art gallery or museum with your child. As you wandered around, perhaps your child saw something which triggered a memory of a topic they had covered in class – this is experiential learning in action.