[If you want to skip straight to the workshop handout/template, it's here!]
This post provides a summary of our workshop titled “Designing experiential learning curriculum: A planning workshop for course instructors,” and includes the materials given to workshop participants. This 60-minute workshop was first presented at the Perspectives on Experiential Learning conference, held at University of Guelph on April 30, 2019 and was one of the sessions under the theme of “Designing, Teaching and Assessing Experiential Learning.” The intended audience for this workshop was postsecondary instructors, who often receive little to no formal pedagogical training as part of their program of education. The workshop abstract read as follows:
This participatory workshop will first provide an overview of experiential learning including: what it is, why it matters and how instructors can create experiential learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom. Following this introduction to experiential learning, participants will get to work designing experiential learning opportunities for their students that are in line with the learning outcomes in their courses (please bring a course syllabus to the workshop!). The workshop facilitators will guide participants through the steps of planning lesson content, learning experiences, and reflection-based assessments. Participants will leave with a template for planning experiential learning activities and a plan for implementing experiential learning in their curriculum. This workshop is suited for instructors who are new to the topic of experiential learning.
These are the learning outcomes identified in the workshop proposal:
By the end of this workshop, participants will be able to:
-understand the purpose of experiential learning and the experiential learning cycle (Kolb 1984)
-design a lesson plan that includes experiential learning (from preparation to assessment)
-develop a course of action for implementing experiential learning into their course curriculum
This workshop was designed and delivered by Alexandra Rodney, PhD, and Richard Prosser. Alexandra has four years of experience teaching Sociology at the University of Toronto and Richard has 28 years of experience as a teacher and administrator in secondary schools. Alexandra and Richard co-teach a Leadership course built around the following pedagogies: experiential learning, project-based learning, service learning and design thinking. Both Alexandra and Richard are pursuing their MEd degrees (Classroom Specialist concentration) at Queen's University.
This is a summary of the introduction to experiential learning that we gave to workshop participants.
Experiential learning is a pedagogical approach that in its most basic form means learning by experiencing or learning by doing (and then reflecting on that experience).
The experiential learning cycle/principles
Experiential learning philosophy is most often grounded in David Kolb’s experiential learning theory that posits a four-stage cycle of learning (Kolb is an American psychologist and educational theorist). The stages are:
1) Concrete learning (the learner has some sort of concrete experience)
2) Reflective observation (the learner makes observations and reflections based on the concrete experience)
3) Abstract conceptualization (these observations and reflections are synthesized into a new abstract conceptualization of the experience)
4) Active experimentation (this new understanding/conceptualization of the experience is applied to subsequent concrete experiences)
In experiential learning activities, students apply theoretical knowledge learned in the classroom to practical tasks or problems. Responsibility for learning is passed on to the learner rather than being solely in the hands of the teacher.
During experiential learning activities students are involved in: immersion in an experience, self-discovery through the process of learning, connection to prior experiences and the broader world, and reflection on the experience.
[Note: Kolb’s model as reproduced on the handout is a very basic model of the stages of experiential learning; additional stages/principles have been identified, as described here on the National Society of Experiential Education’s website. In addition, one of our workshop participants from Camosun College pointed us to an interactive tool that the College produced to help instructors conceptualize each of these eight stages.]
Why experiential learning matters as a pedagogy
Experiential learning is arguably how “natural” learning happens (especially according to constructivist theorists like John Dewey or Jean Piaget). The theories behind experiential learning have their roots in the mid-century constructivist movement away from traditional pedagogies. Constructivism is a theory of learning based on the idea that humans actively construct knowledge through direct experience (as opposed to being taught concepts in the abstracts=) and learning outcomes are varied rather than uniform.
Examples of experiential learning
Experiential learning activities can be field-based or classroom-based. Field-based learning is what most people think of when they think of experiential learning (e.g., students involved in internships or practicums). Classroom-based activities can also be created so that students can apply course concepts to a challenge or activity (e.g., simulations, data analysis). Several examples of experiential learning activities are provided on p. 2 of the handout.
At the workshop we walked participants through the process of designing a lesson plan based on experiential learning pedagogy, using the lesson planning template. This was a rapid, “bootcamp” style exercise that had participants work through each of the stages of planning an experiential learning lesson. The goal was to take participants through an entire cycle of lesson planning and then in the future they can use this template to methodically plan a lesson on their own time.
After participants filled out the first four text boxes (designed to encourage thinking about the context of their courses and their initial ideas), they shared their ideas with a partner to get feedback and suggestions.
Then we walked participants through the stages of creating a lesson plan (text boxes five through nine). After that, participants traded worksheets with someone at their table and they gave feedback on each others’ ideas (some of them did this via written feedback and some of them did this verbally); after about five minutes participants traded worksheets with a different person to get even more feedback. During the feedback sessions we heard participants congratulating each other on their exciting ideas for experiential activities and helpful feedback was shared.
Finally, we concluded the workshop with about five minutes for questions and comments.
Overall, participants told us that they appreciated getting their ideas “out of their heads” and having the opportunity to get rapid feedback from others at the early stages of planning an experiential learning activity (before testing it out on students).
*The ideas in this introduction were drawn from the following sources:
Cantor, J.A. 1995. Experiential Learning in Higher Education. Washington, D.C.: ASHEERIC Higher Education Report No. 7.
Centre for Teaching and Learning. 2019. “Experiential learning.” University of Waterloo. Accessed from: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/support/integrative-learning/experiential-learning
Chapman, S., McPhee, P., & Proudman, B. 1995. What is Experiential Education?. In Warren, K. (Ed.), The Theory of Experiential Education (pp. 235-248). Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Gonzalez, J. 2015. “Constructivism.” Cult of Pedagogy (blog). Accessed from: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/constructivism/
Hamilton, J.G. and J.M. Klebba. 2011. Experiential learning: A course design process for critical thinking. American Journal of Business Education. 4(12): 1-12.
Kolb, D. A. 1984. Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. 1975. Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. in C. Cooper (ed.), Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.
Lewis, L.H. & Williams, C.J. 1994. In Jackson, L. & Caffarella, R.S. (Eds.). Experiential Learning: A New Approach (pp. 5-16). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Qualters, D. M. 2010. Bringing the Outside in: Assessing Experiential Education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, (124), 55-62.
Schwartz, Michelle. (n.d). “Best practices in experiential learning.” The Learning and Teaching Office. Ryerson University.
Wurdinger, S.D. 2005. Using Experiential Learning in the Classroom. Lanham: Scarecrow Education