The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Experiential Learning Effectively

Experiential learning is a powerful approach to teaching that engages students in the learning process through direct experience and focused reflection. With experiential learning students actively participate in experiences that apply academic knowledge to real-world situations. This leads to deeper learning, improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and the ability to transfer knowledge to new contexts.

As an educator, facilitating experiential learning requires thoughtful planning, guidance, and support Follow this comprehensive guide to effectively implement experiential techniques in your classroom

Getting Started with Experiential Learning

Here are some key steps to take as you begin integrating experiential learning:

Establish a Shared Vision

First, ensure there is a shared understanding of experiential learning methodology. Discuss with students how it differs from traditional education and articulate specific learning objectives. Developing a common vision sets the intention for meaningful experiential learning.

Provide Modeling and Mastery Experiences

Allow students to observe you modeling the learning process through an experiential activity. This demonstrates the techniques they will use, including the role of reflection. Also incorporate mastery experiences where students develop skills through practice. This builds confidence for more challenging experiences.

Challenge and Encourage Students

Experiential learning often takes students out of their comfort zone. Offer encouragement and emphasize the rewards of pushing boundaries. Challenge students just beyond their current level so they expand skills without getting discouraged.

Personalize Attention and Feedback

Since experiential learning is student-driven, provide personalized coaching, feedback, and support. Check in frequently to guide individuals through key insights and challenges. Feedback should promote self-reflection and learning.

Create Experiential Lessons

Design engaging, hands-on lessons that apply academic content through:

  • Simulations and role playing
  • Field work and observations
  • Creative projects and problem-solving
  • Service learning and volunteer projects
  • Physical and interactive activities

Aim for lessons that are active, student-centered, contextualized, reflective, iterative, and meaningful.

Promote Reflection

Reflection transforms experiences into productive learning. Promote regular reflection before, during, and after activities. Utilize journals, discussions, presentations, and creative formats to prompt deep thinking about experiences.

With the foundations in place, you can begin building immersive experiential curriculum across diverse subject areas.

Key Components of Experiential Learning Activities

The strongest experiential learning integrates these vital components:


Experiences should be hands-on and mirror real-life contexts as closely as possible. The activities, roles, and scenarios should represent authentic situations.

Active Experimentation

Students should actively experiment with the experience rather than passively observe. They must engage with the activity and begin forming their own understanding.

Situational Opportunities

Situate experiences within relevant environments that shape perspectives. This provides live observational and contextual learning opportunities.

Meaningful Purpose

Ensure the experience has clear meaning and purpose.Students should understand the direct relevance of the activity and desired takeaways.

Thought-Provoking Problems

Incorporate open-ended problems that require critical thinking and engagement. Stimulate students’ problem-solving skills through relevant challenges.

Interpersonal Interactions

Coordinate opportunities for meaningful interpersonal interaction. Collaborating with peers reinforces soft skills crucial for experiential learning.

Emotional Engagement

Target the emotional, not just intellectual, experience of students. Encourage personal reactions, perspectives, and connections to the experience.

With these elements, you can facilitate dynamic experiential learning across any subject or skill area.

Experiential Learning Models to Guide Activity Design

Experiential learning models offer frameworks for structuring cycles of concrete experience and reflective observation. Here are some top models:

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

This four-stage cycle maps the ideal experiential process:

  1. Concrete Experience: Students engage in a hands-on activity without preconceptions.

  2. Reflective Observation: Students consciously reflect on their experience from various viewpoints.

  3. Abstract Conceptualization: Students make connections between their reflections and abstract theories or concepts about the experience.

  4. Active Experimentation: Students apply their new knowledge, competencies, and perspectives in different contexts. This starts the cycle again at a more complex level.

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

Professor Graham Gibbs developed this six-step structure for guided reflection:

  1. Description: Students describe objectively what happened during their experience, without evaluating.

  2. Feelings: Students explore their emotional reactions to and feelings about the experience.

  3. Evaluation: Students evaluate the experience, including positives, negatives, and learnings.

  4. Analysis: Students make sense of the experience by examining causes, consequences, influences, and reasons for their actions.

  5. Conclusions: Students draw conclusions and identify insights gained from the analysis.

  6. Action Plan: Students outline personal action items going forward, applying their new knowledge.

David A. Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning

Kolb conceptualized learning as a four-mode cycle driven by experience:

  • Concrete Experience (feeling): Students encounter a new experience or situation.

  • Reflective Observation (watching): Students observe and reflect on the experience from different perspectives.

  • Abstract Conceptualization (thinking): Students interpret their observations and develop theories and concepts.

  • Active Experimentation (doing): Students apply these theories and see the outcomes, starting the cycle again.

Kolb notes effective learning integrates all four modes in a continuous process.

John Dewey’s Model of Experiential Learning

Dewey presented this five-step pattern:

  1. Suggestion: Teacher frames an experience to guide thinking and exploration.

  2. Problem Identification: Students identify issues to address or questions to answer.

  3. Hypothesis: Students propose hypotheses for these problems.

  4. Reasoning: Students collect data and apply logic to test their hypotheses.

  5. Application: Students apply the conclusions from this experience more broadly.

Dewey emphasized student-directed inquiry rather than passive reception of content.

The Joplin Model

This five-stage model designed for outdoor education involves:

  1. Focus: Students are oriented to the purpose, expectations, and approach.

  2. Challenge: Students participate actively in an experience presenting challenges.

  3. Debrief: Through discussion, students analyze the experience and their reactions.

  4. Demonstration: Students demonstrate knowledge, attitudes, and skills gained.

  5. Mastery: Cumulative challenges encourage students to refine mastery of learning.

Designing an Experiential Learning Plan

With a grasp of theory and models, thoughtfully design experiential learning plans:

Learning Objectives

Identify the specific knowledge, attitudes, skills, and competencies you want students to develop. Tie these closely to academic standards and curriculum.

Formats and Activities

Select appropriate hands-on activities, projects, simulations, and formats that bring learning objectives to life. Draw ideas from the models.

Authentic Scenarios

Situate activities in scenarios reflecting real-life contexts students encounter outside the classroom. Add verisimilitude.


Determine any materials, environments, partnerships, or field resources needed to conduct activities. Address logistics.


Schedule a full sequence of scaffolded challenges that incrementally build skills. Map a progression through key phases.

Instructions and Guidance

Plan instructions, guidelines, and support to set students up for success. Guide the process while leaving room for self-direction.

Reflection Methods

Weave in various reflective techniques like journals, discussions, and debriefs for students to derive meaning from experiences.


Develop formative and summative assessments to evaluate mastery of knowledge, attitudes, and competencies. Align with objectives.


Close the experience with final demonstrations, presentations, or projects where students integrate culminate their learning.

Maximizing the Experiential Learning Experience

Here are more tips for facilitating deep experiential learning:

  • Foster student ownership by incorporating their voices into activity design.
  • Establish an environment of trust, openness, and teamwork.
  • Encourage creativity, improvisation, and exploring possibilities.
  • Be responsive and adaptive rather than adhering rigidly to plans.
  • Pose probing questions rather than give direct answers.
  • Provide exposure to diverse people, places, and ideas.
  • Incorporate technologies to enrich experiences.
  • Ensure inclusion, accessibility, and accommodations for all.
  • Anticipate challenges that may arise and prepare support.
  • Monitor and check in on student progress and engagement.
  • Allow cross-disciplinary integration where beneficial.
  • Partner with community organizations and businesses if relevant.
  • Keep experiential learning learner-centered rather than teacher-directed.

Assessing Experiential Learning

how to teach experiential learning

Integrating Experiential Learning (EL) in Teaching

As previously noted, a primary role for instructors is to identify a situation which challenges students through problem-solving, cooperation, collaboration, self-discovery and self-reflection. At the same time, decide what the students should learn or gain from the learning experience. Below are some primary points to consider when integrating experiential learning in your own teaching.

Once the EL experience has been decided upon, plan the experience by tying it to the course learning objectives and determine what students will need to successfully complete the exercise (resources such as readings and worksheets, research, rubrics, supplies and directions to off-campus locations, etc.). Also, determine the logistics: how much time will be allotted for the students to complete the experience (a complete class session, one week or more)? Will students need to work outside of class? How will the experience end? What forms of assessment will you employ? Will you use ongoing assessments such as observations and journals (called formative assessment), end of experience assessments such as written reports and projects, self and/or peer assessments, or a combination of all three?

After the planning has been completed, prepare materials, rubrics, and assessment tools and ensure that everything is ready before the experience begins.

As with most instructional strategies, the instructor should commence the experience. Once begun, you should refrain from providing students with all of the content and information and complete answers to their questions. Instead, guide students through the process of finding and determining solutions for themselves.

Success of an experiential learning activity can be determined during discussions, reflections and a debriefing session. Debriefing, as a culminating experience, can help to reinforce and extend the learning process. In addition, make use of the assessment strategies previously planned.

The Experiential Learning Process

Experiential learning involves a number of steps that offer student a hands-on, collaborative and reflective learning experience which helps them to “fully learn new skills and knowledge” (Haynes, 2007). Although learning content is important, learning from the process is at the heart of experiential learning. During each step of the experience, students will engage with the content, the instructor, each other as well as self–reflect and apply what they have learned in another situation.

The following describes the steps that comprise experiential learning as noted by (Haynes, 2007, para. 6 and UC Davis, 2011).

Students will perform or do a hands-on minds-on experience with little or no help from the instructor. Examples might include: Making products or models, role-playing, giving a presentation, problem-solving, playing a game. A key facet of experiential learning is what the student learns from the experience rather than the quantity or quality of the experience.

Students will share the results, reactions and observations with their peers. Students will also get other peers to talk about their own experience, share their reactions and observations and discuss feelings generated by the experience. The sharing equates to reflecting on what they discovered and relating it to past experiences which can be used for future use.

Students will discuss, analyze and reflect upon the experience. Describing and analyzing their experiences allow students to relate them to future learning experiences. Students will also discuss how the experience was carried out, how themes, problems and issues emerged as a result of the experience. Students will discuss how specific problems or issues were addressed and to identify recurring themes.

Students will connect the experience with real world examples, find trends or common truths in the experience, and identify “real life” principles that emerged.

Students will apply what they learned in the experience (and what they learned from past experiences and practice) to a similar or different situation. Also, students will discuss how the newly learned process can be applied to other situations. Students will discuss how issues raised can be useful in future situations and how more effective behaviors can develop from what they learned. The instructor should help each student feel a sense of ownership for what was learned.

Experiential Learning: How We All Learn Naturally

What is the first step in experiential learning?

The first step includes actually completing the activity itself. The most important part of experiential learning is the actual experience, so students must complete their assignments and experience what the teacher has designed for them. After a lesson has been completed, students should reflect on what they did.

How do you develop an experiential learning lesson?

For instance, the first part of developing an experiential learning lesson is to first assess the students in the class. At this early stage, it’s important to understand what type of learners are in the class. How much experience do they have with the material? Are some learners more advanced than others?

What is experiential teaching?

Experiential teaching focuses on engaging students in experiences related to situations they may see in the real world. Some typical experiential learning activities include field trips, student teaching, interactive experiments and apprenticeships.

What is experiential learning & why is it important?

Experiential learning takes various shapes and takes place in various settings. As seen in this video, students can benefit from experiential learning at any stage of their development through any or many disciplinary pathways. But such an approach to teaching requires ample planning and guidance to ensure the highest chances for sucess.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *