Experiential Learning K-12

What is Experiential Learning?

Experiential learning is not learning by doing - simply participating in a learning activity doesn't necessarily make is experiential.

Experiential Learning is an inquiry-based, pedagogical approach that provides opportunities for students to co-construct their learning by:

  • participating in rich experiences connected to a community outside of school;
  • reflecting on those experiences to derive meaning; and
  • applying their learning to influence their decisions and actions in various aspects of their lives.

The experience can involve local, national, or global communities and:

  • being physically present (an on-site experience);
  • being present through the use of digital tools and technologies (a virtual experience); or,
  • a combination of the two (a blended experience).

The Experiential Learning Cycle

A graphic of the experiential learning cycle. A three circle Venn diagram made up of Participate, Apply and Reflect.

The experiential learning cycle is depicted in the image to the left. Although the “participate-reflect-apply” cycle appears as a three-stage process, it is not a rigid or strictly sequential process but rather a dynamic and highly personal one. Three questions – What?, So what?, and Now what? – are associated with each stage of the process, respectively, and help to focus students’ thinking and drive the process, as follows:

  1. Participate: What? Students are actively immersed in an experience, acknowledging what they are doing, what they are thinking, and what they are feeling during the experience.
  2. Reflect: So what? Students think about their experience, guided by reflective questions and prompts, and identify what they learned as a result of the experience - about themselves, other people, the world, their opportunities, or the subject of study.
  3. Apply: Now what? Students describe how their learning stimulates further inquiry; how it has influenced - or may influence - their decisions, opinions, goals, and plans; and what they might do differently if they have similar experiences in the future.

The simplicity of the experiential learning cycle makes it appropriate for students of all ages. By altering the reflective questions and prompts at each stage of the cycle, educators can adjust the complexity, focus, and depth of the process to suit the developmental needs of the students.

For access additional information and resources to support Experiential Learning, please visit https://el.sccdsb.net