Experiential Learning

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Experiential Learning

Experiential learning offers students assignments and activities based on real-life situations or primary research that engage them in reflective, data-driven problem-solving with no predetermined correct approach.

How Can I Do This?

Experiential learning is any learning that supports students in applying their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world problems or authentic situations where the instructor directs and facilitates learning (Wurdinger & Carlson, 2010). The crux of the learning occurs during the reflective process where students assess their decisions in the light of natural consequences, mistakes, and successes.

Choose relevant experiences that complement your course outcomes.

What matters most is whether the activities allow students to chase answers to questions, make decisions, take risks, think on their feet, and justify their answers. These types of activities enhance student learning.

  • These immersive experiences will help students develop and build upon knowledge, skills, and values associated with thinking like an expert within your field.
  • Decide what you want your students to be able to do in the course to make sure the experience you are planning aligns with your learning outcomes.
  • The experience should answer a question or problem relevant to your course. The learning comes from the rationale for their answers and the reflections from the experience.
  • Feel free to start with a single assignment that complements the concepts you are teaching and add more as needed.
Take risks: Be open to risk-taking, both you and your students.

The first time teaching experiential learning, start modestly so everyone can enjoy the activity while deepening their learning. Remember, the results most likely will not be as predictable as you or your students are used to experiencing. The learning experiences help you teach the value of productive failure.

  • Keep in mind that It’s about the process as much as the product.
  • Have frequent communications with your students to reassure yourself and the students.
  • Whether successful or a "failure," help students document, reflect upon, and learn from the experience.
Plan carefully and early.

As an instructor plan earlier than you usually would so you can build a timeline and expectations and think about what could possibly could go wrong before the course starts.

  • Have a plan B in case outside factors do not work out.
  • If you are working with a community partner or client, make sure expectations, time line, time commitment, and expected products are communicated to them before the course starts.
  • Be clear about what you, the instructor, will determine the students do and what the students have autonomy over.
Determine the skills and the skill level required for the assignment

What skills will be needed for students to complete this assignment? Will they need to work as a team, search for academic articles, conduct an experiment, think divergently, or ask good interview questions? The experiential learning activity represents a challenge in and of itself, so you want students to be confident in how and when they apply those skills.

  • You may need to determine whether students have the requisite skills beforehand.
  • If they are new skills, then explicitly teach them to your students.
  • Think about the level of your course and match the appropriate level of skills.
Always plan enough time for student reflections of their learning.

Experiential learning is a process, and although the product is important, regularly reflecting on the process and what they have learned is very important in their growth

  • It is often more productive to give them time in class for their reflections.
  • Choose some good reflections to share with the class so they understand what the expectations are.
  • To emphasize how important these reflections are make them part of the students' grade.

Why Is This Important?

Learning that is considered "experiential" contains all the following elements: reflection, critical analysis and synthesis, opportunities for students to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for the results. It provides opportunities for students to engage intellectually, creatively, emotionally, socially, or physically.

Increases student motivation to learn.

When students are engaged in learning experiences that they see the relevance of, and the product has more significance than a grade, they have increased motivation to learn and produce a more thoughtful product.

  • Experiential learning stimulates academic inquiry to enrich and apply the content students are learning.
  • Encountering authentic opportunities for applying their learning motivates students.
Produces more autonomous learners.

To solve problems and complete tasks in unfamiliar situations in a real-world context, students need to figure out what they know, what they do not know, and how to learn it.

Reflection deepens learning and helps students to:
  • transfer their previous learning to new contexts
  • master new concepts, principles, and skills
  • and articulate how they developed this mastery (Linn, et al., 2004).
Internships and work experience become more meaningful if students are better prepared.

Integrating experiential learning into content courses builds skills, confidence, and expectations for students to participate in successful internships and work experience.

  • Students get more out of internships and work experiences if they learn beforehand certain attitudes and ways of thinking that are inherent in the discipline or the workplace.
  • Experiential learning gives students the opportunity to practice and develop attitudes such as resilience, tenacity, curiosity and self-direction.
Most transferable and marketable skills are forged in “real world” settings.

Real-world competencies such as civic engagement, team work, and leadership that most employers look for in candidates, are best practiced in the “real-world” not sitting in a classroom.

  • Skills need to be practiced in many different settings. They are not "remembered" but instilled by using and honing them through practice.
Our students have the chance to access world-class research, development, and scholarly activities.

The resources we have here at UT Austin, both infrastructure and personnel, make this a rich, vibrant environment for students to be involved in many different areas without even leaving campus: