Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning

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Experiential learning emphasizes the central role that experience plays in the learning process. Its intellectual origins is rooted to the argument that all learning is grounded in experience – hearing a lecture, reading a book, painting a picture, campaigning for a cause, and that there can be no learning without experience.[1]

Notably, much learning, perhaps the most important learning, is acquired through daily life, without planning.

There can be activity without learning, but for experience to be educational, the focus has to be centred on the conditions of the learning activity. These give concrete form to abstract ideas – it may even make abstract knowledge more useable. In contrast to information assimilation, experiential learning begins with action and moves through the generalisation of a principle derived from that action and its application in another situation.[2]

One of the attractions of experiential learning is the possibility of improving the learners’ ability to apply their learning focused on their intrinsic motivation. Learners learn experientially by reflecting on experiences, developing personal insights and understanding through involvement in intellectual, emotional and physical activity. Experiential learning has the capacity to elicit a wider range of learner responses than conventional classroom learning, ethical and emotional reactions are called forth along with physical activity and social engagement.[3]

Experiential Learning encourages each individual to learn according to their preferred learning style(s), whilst conventional learning is focused on organizational needs and aims in transferring per-determined skills to learners' - from the outside in and for an external purpose. Experiential learning encourages people to develop as individuals, from the inside out and for internal growth.

In Experiential Learning participants are motivated to affect positive emotions and therefore develop a positive attitude towards learning.

Toolkit.png Guidelines for Facilitators
  • 1. Ensure all planned activities are centred on the learner without facilitated instruction or proffered opinion; like the principles of life coaching and those of facilitative decision-making methodology, the other person is at the centre.
  • 2. The facilitator creates an appropriate learning environment, provides an activity that will initiate the learning process, create an atmosphere and framework conducive to constructive critical review, ensures that any conceptual thinking is progressed to meaningful conclusions, and opportunities for improvement identified.
  • 3. The activity must engage, stimulate and challenge, motivating the learner to become absorbed in the task themselves. It must not involve role play in a conventional artificial sense. All activities must be designed, managed and facilitated carefully so that the activity has impact.
  • 4. Learning review: this needs to involve the learner in personal thought, challenge and discussion before coming to some form of conclusion. Encourage a period of individual reflection guided by open-ended or tick-box questionnaires, followed by a facilitated discussion. Concentrate the review (and learning) on positive aspects; too much emphasis on negatives can seriously undermine confidence in the whole area of learning and development.
  • 5. The role of the facilitator in the review is to enable others to learn by drawing out the issues and developing the learning that is relevant to the individual. The facilitator should ask questions that will stimulate thought about relevant issues and enable the group to use answers to develop further thought and learning.
  • 6. If you observe a point that isn’t raised during a review it is legitimate to raise it, but only through questioning. If, despite questioning, individuals don't relate to the point, there is no benefit in pursuing as any 'learning' will not be theirs. A better option is for you to run another activity designed to focus more attention on this specific point. Whatever happens, don't be tempted to provide 'professional analysis' as this approach takes the ownership of the learning away from the individual.
  • 7. Learners can and will make experiential learning opportunities work for them. To be an effective facilitator your role is to provide opportunities for others to learn and progress.


  • 1. Learner is central to the learning without instruction or opinion of the facilitator.
  • 2. Provide a good learning environment and framework for activities.
  • 3. Activities must engage, stimulate and challenge.
  • 4. Encourage individual reflection guided by open ended or tick box questionnaires.
  • 5. Ask questions that will stimulate thought.
  • 6. Ownership of the learning is for the learner.
  • 7. Provide opportunities for others to learn. [4]

Examples of Experiential Learning Models

  • David Kolb: Experiential Learning Theory
  • David Kolb: Learning Style Inventory
  • Honey and Mumford: Learning Style Questionnaire

Job Aid

Pdf.png Experiential Learning: Guidelines for Facilitators

Link icon.png Web Resources
Link Content
Experiential Learning Programs for Youth Programs for Youth.
Experiential learning Definition: Experiential learning.
Video: Experiential Learning Practice: Experiential Learning.
Guide to facilitating effective experiential learning activities Sample experiential learning activities, concepts and principles.


  1. [Dewey, J. (1859-1952). An American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer.
  2. [Coleman (1977) « Differences Between Experiential and Classroom Learning ». In Experiential Learning: Rationale, Characteristics, and Assessment by M.T. Keeton and Associates. San Fransisco: Jossy-Bass Inc.
  3. [Experiential Learning Programs for Youth, Stephen F. Hamilton in American Journal of Education , Vol. 88, No. 2 (Feb., 1980) 179-215, The University of Chicago Press. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1085305.
  4. [The guidelines below are based on Martin Thompson’s 'Experiential Learning in Action: Beyond the Ropes' first published in the New Zealand Human Resources Institute Magazine, January 2008 and cited in . http://www.businessballs.com/experiential_learning.htm, accessed 28.vi.MMXII.