Experiential education is an immersive, student-focused approach that engages learners of all ages, backgrounds and experience levels. It is effectively used in K-12 schools, higher education, therapy, corporate training and other areas for educational learning, personal development andskills building. According to the Association for Experiential Education, experiential learning can be summed up in the phrase “challenge and experience followed by reflection and application leading to learning and growth.”

Principles of Experiential Education

Experiential learning can take many forms, from classrooms to camp programs, from corporate team building to wilderness and adventure programs. The focus on connecting active and participatory experiences with reflection deepens learning and allows students to gain new skills and knowledge.

The experiential education approach includes the following principles:

  • The learning experience is student-focused, not teacher-centered. The learner is an active participant in the generation of knowledge.
  • Carefully crafted experiences are supplemented with reflection and critical analysis.
  • Experiences are designed to evoke decision-making, initiative, relationship building and accountability in participants.
  • Experiential learners are encouraged and expected to be inquisitive and ask questions, experiment and apply creativity, use problem solving skills and take responsibility.
  • Participants can expect to be engaged on an emotional, intellectual, physical, social and spiritual level.
  • The skill set and experiences gained through experiential education programs form a foundation that can be applied and adapted to real-world scenarios and problems in the future.
  • With every experience, participants and learners are given the opportunity to explore their own values and to come away with an enhanced and broadened perspective and set of tools.

Benefits of Experiential Learning and Experiential Education Programs

According to the Association of American Colleges & Universities, experiential learning and field experiences play a vital role in helping to coalesce theory and practice through hands-on natural experiences. Imparting students with the ability to successfully apply what they learn in the classroom in practical settings is a fundamental goal of education. Experiential programs provide the vehicle for participants to interact with their lessons first hand in a way that would not be as meaningful by simply reading material or hearing a lecture.

Here are just a few of the many benefits of experiential learning:

  • Provides practical experience and applications of knowledge for better understanding
  • Fosters an interest and connection to lifelong learning
  • Develops critical and abstract thinking skills for better problem solving and relationship building
  • Offers an opportunity for deep reflection (a core component of experiential learning) and feedback, as well as the ability to process, learn and benefit from constructive criticism
  • Helps participants learn how to meet new challenges and “think on their feet” through navigating unfamiliar and unexpected situations on a physical, intellectual and emotional level

Examples of Experiential Education Programs

Experiential learning can take many shapes and forms, and there are many different types of programs utilizing the experiential education approach.

Adventure Education

Adventure programs are designed to foster everything from leadership and team building skills to personal growth and development through active engagement with nature and the outdoors. Adventure education programs vary in everything from climate and geographic location, and serve a range of people from adults, to youth learners, the elderly, families and organizations. These programs can be offered through a university or educational curriculum, as a component of personal counseling or therapy, for personal enrichment, drug and substance abuse rehabilitation, and corporate team building and organizational development, to name a few.

Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy is founded on the principle of incorporating the outdoors as part of the healing and recovery, and learning process. From team building workshops and games to physical and intellectual challenges, adventure therapy programs also cover a broad range of experiences for participants of all ages and backgrounds. The goals of these programs are to impart healthy coping skills and to foster community among participants both in the program and after they return to their homes, schools and organizations.

Corporate Training and Development

A skilled experiential facilitator can help your business in a variety of ways. Team-building, stronger communication, leadership development and strategy planning are just some of the impacts that the experiential education approach can contribute to your organization’s success.

Classroom education

Experiential education is increasingly utilized in elementary and secondary schools. In these classrooms, the approach is student-focused and not teacher-centered. Group activities, project-based learning and outdoor experiences and outings support student engagement and learning. The experiential approach builds relationship skills, critical thinking and self-confidence as well as curriculum-based knowledge and skill growth.

College and Universities

Colleges and universities are rapidly adopting experiential education to enhance and complement course content. No matter what degree or subject you want to pursue, ask about learning opportunities besides lecture and discussion. Hands-on projects, service learning and outdoor programs are examples of experiential learning opportunitiesavailable at colleges and universities. And if you’re interested in studying experiential education, there are schools offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field.

For More Information

LearnThroughExperience was created by the Association of Experiential Education to help connect people with experiential learning programs that best serve their own unique purposes. Whether you’re looking for an adventure therapy provider, leadership development or a wilderness education program, we hope this site helps you in your journey. Browse our listed programs for examples of experiential education.


2 responses to “What Is Experiential Education?

  1. I’m really excited to see that there is blog that has been started on the topic of Experiential Education! However, in this article it seems that experiential education only happens outdoors or through outdoor programming. I love that this is a huge aspect of experiential education, but it’s important to be aware that under the definition of “challenge and experience followed by reflection and application leading to learning and growth” can happen anywhere, even indoors.

    1. Hi Allen,

      Thank you for reading and your insight. We definitely agree that experiential education can happen anywhere – that’s part of the beauty of it.

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