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How Experiential Education Can Help Students Learn Skills for In and Out of the Classroom

Traditional educational experiences have a lot going for them. If tried and true lecture-style teaching strategies weren’t so effective, they wouldn’t still be around centuries after their invention. As with anything, though, variations on traditions can be eye-opening. Montessori and charter schools have helped to redefine the way we think of K-12 education, for example, bringing a newfound appreciation for adaptive lessons and novel approaches.

Experiential education is another new school of thought helping students learn in inventive ways. As our society becomes more and more accepting of diagnoses like ADHD and autism, we’re rethinking the ways we learn and teach. No matter your background, you likely learn more effectively in a hands-on scenario. That’s why experiential education is revolutionizing the way students learn skills in both the classroom and the real world.

Defining Experiential Education

When you think of the term experiential education, your mind might go to the work-study you performed in college at the university library. Perhaps you think of the internship you did post-grad that led to your first real job. While these are probably the most common forms of experiential education, they are far from the only kinds.

Experiential education can be any form of teaching and learning that deviates from theoretical knowledge and challenges students to solve real problems. Such lessons might require the teacher to pose scenarios, observe the ways students solve problems and help facilitate learning based on the activity. Rather than simply “sitting and getting” as they would in a traditional classroom setting, students roll up their sleeves and flex their critical thinking muscles to create real change.

While we might associate experiential education with learning opportunities outside of the classroom, teachers and students don’t need to wander far to engage in such a lesson. Experiential learning can indeed occur within the classroom, so long as students are actively engaged and working to solve a problem. Everything from field trips to service learning opportunities can be considered experiential learning given the right context.

Benefits

If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a night. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime. It’s an aphorism we’ve all heard before, but it applies perfectly to the benefits of experiential learning. While we might hope that traditional teaching can have such an impact on students, not all respond well to lectures, quizzes, and testing. Instead, some students learn best by doing. Experiential learning requires critical thinking, decision making and problem-solving, all of which can help accelerate the rate at which a person learns.

Experiential learning can also significantly increase student engagement. With new technology constantly competing for the attention of students, it’s no surprise that teachers need to pull out all stops to both educate and engage their class. Instructors can serve as facilitators, resources, cheerleaders, or all of the above. Experiential learning often requires a degree of collaboration while solving a problem. Engagement is natural when the task at hand requires active participation.

Learning by doing is something most of us will experience at one point or another. Experiential education combines the theoretical lessons we might receive via lecture or textbook and bridges the gap between theory and practice. For example, you can do all the research you’d like on swimming, but you won’t truly learn how to do a breaststroke until you’re in the pool. This kind of mindset change can seriously flip a student’s perception of how or why a concept works.

Impact on Adult Learners

Learners of all ages can benefit from experiential education. No matter how old someone is, critical thinking and problem-solving require a great deal of analytical forethought and leadership skills. By honing them in an educational environment, both children and adults alike can sharpen these skills. Such experiences help prepare students to transition from classroom to workplace and beyond. Experiential education can also help create excellent critical thinking habits, too, which will have lifelong benefits for students.

Experiential learning needn’t be led by educators only. Students hoping to understand new concepts should work to explore them in real-world settings that challenge their traditional worldview. While perhaps not as intuitive as simply following instructions given by teachers, such experiences can be incredibly eye-opening for those hoping to gain more depth about a given topic.

By offering students the chance to have first-hand experience at a given task, we broaden the horizons of the typical learning experience. With experience leading to direct consequences, learners take more initiative in the development of their skills. No matter the setting or the context in which experiential learning occurs, students will build social skills and work ethic in ways they previously could not.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes.

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