As the name suggests, experiential learning is the process of learning through first-hand experience and is a method which is becoming increasingly popular at universities throughout the world. Seen by some as the future of learning, it differs from traditional methods of teaching through its emphasis on the experiences and reflection of students. So rather than just teaching student’s theory, experiential learning requires them to put their knowledge into practice and apply it to real-life situations. Experiential learning aims to have students career and world-ready by the time they leave education, through a mixture of internships, practical activities and fieldwork. Top 3 benefits:
Bridges the gap between theory and practice
One of the greatest benefits of experiential learning is that it allows students to take the theory they learn in the classroom and put it into practice and apply it to real-life situations. One of the criticisms of traditional, lecture-based university teaching is that the emphasis on theory makes it easier for students to disengage. However, experiential learning makes the theory students learn “real” by allowing them to interact with it and applying it to hands-on tasks. This can also help better prepare students for careers after they leave university, as rather than just learning from a textbook they will have the opportunity to put skills into practice that their careers may demand of them later in life. Most experiential learning activities also involve students working in groups, allowing students to develop their team-work and leadership skills which are also key for later life.
Advocates of experiential learning argue that it accelerates students’ learning due to the effect that actually practising a skill has on strengthening the neural connections in our brain – ‘learning by doing’ is more effective and long-lasting than theoretical learning. Hands-on tasks in experiential learning also require students to utilise critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills, which increases student engagement and thus accelerates learning and improves students’ retention of information. Statistics show that knowledge retention rate is around 5% for traditional learning, whereas it can be up to 90% in experiential learning, meaning there is a huge difference. The personal nature of experiential learning also engages students emotionally and can increase the senses of satisfaction and pride that students gain from their work. This can improve students’ attitudes and enthusiasm for learning, which can also help accelerate and maximise their learning potential.
Opportunities for creativity and reflection
Experiential learning gives students the opportunity to engage their creative side in situations where traditional learning would not. For example, when it comes to hands-on tasks, these will often have multiple solutions, and experiential learning allows students to seek and demonstrate their own personal and unique solution to the task. Reflection is also a crucial part of this learning and can allow students to make genuine, personal connections with the taught material. Students are encouraged to recognise and analyse how their actions affected the outcome and how and why their outcome may have been different from other students’. This reflection can therefore help students better understand their actions and how learned concepts can be applied to other circumstances.