NGSS

What is Experiential Learning?

Learning by doing through experiential learning

When you envision a classroom, do you see a teacher at the front of the room lecturing a group of passive students? In this type of classroom, it may look like students are on task, but students often feel bored and unmotivated. How do we turn this around? Experiential learning may be the answer!

What is experiential learning?

In an experiential learning classroom, students are active and work together to solve real-world problems and issues that are relevant to them. Experiential learning focuses on each student’s learning process and experiences. This idea is an old one that is often forgotten in a world of testing and state standards.

There are three key aspects to experiential learning:

  1. building on students’ knowledge from past experiences
  2. creating student-centered activities
  3. reflection

Most teachers are able to effectively activate students’ prior knowledge and diversify their teaching methods by periodically implementing student-centered activities. Reflection, however, is an important element that is often missing from the classroom. A hands-on activity can lose its impact if students do not have time to reflect on its meaning and synthesize their learning. Reflection foster scaffolding for further learning and reinforce the experiential learning that took place. As a teacher, you must become a facilitator and ask questions to guide students before, during, and after the experience. This will allow students to think more critically about the situation and bring an understanding of how this experience can be applied to other contexts. For example, ask your students, “Why did that happen?” or “Where else have you seen this?”

Why should I use experiential learning?

  • Experiential Learning helps arm students with the skills needed to be successful in the STEM workplace and beyond. The classroom becomes a place for authentic experiences that develop 21st century skills.
  • Students become more engaged and motivated. When students see the relevance of what they are doing in the classroom, they become more invested in their learning.
  • By reflecting on their experiences, students gain a deeper understanding of the concept being taught. New knowledge will become more concrete and long lasting. This will come in handy when it is time to take major assessments as students will be able to think back to the concrete experiences they had instead of trying to remember a lecture.

Want to try it out?

Experiential learning can include a variety of activities, such as project-based learning, service learning, field trips, research, internships, and guided inquiry. Throughout the each type of experience, students are actively engaged in the entire process.

Experiential Learning

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is a wonderful way to bring real-world problems into the classroom. In project-based learning, students are assigned a task and are encouraged to work together to find a solution to a problem, create a product, or even design something that meets a specific need. Project-based learning is so effective because students can find their own entry point for the task and use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to achieve the goal. There is no one correct path to the correct answer, which many students find liberating. Find out more about this format in How to Use Project-Based Learning in Your Middle School Science Classroom.

Field Trips

Take your students on a field trip to observe classroom concepts in the real world. This can range from visits to local businesses or a simple trip on the school campus. A guided nature walk could let students determine the steps of plant reproduction, while a trip to a local manufacturing plant could show students the need for precise measurement and calculations. Major field trips can be expensive and complicated to organize, but simple, local field trips can make lasting impressions on students and increase their engagement.

Internships

Outside of the classroom, internships offer some of the most authentic experiential learning opportunities. Internships can help students see what is required to be successful in varying careers and even expose them to jobs they didn’t know existed. Once students can see themselves in a STEM career, they are much more invested in learning the particular concepts and skills that will enable them to reach that career. Check out these ways to help your students find STEM internships.

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Alexandra D. Owens

Alexandra Owens is a STEM Education consultant based in Charleston, SC. She taught middle school science for many years and is now completing her doctorate in STEM Education at Texas Tech University.
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