Experiential Learning

There is an intimate and necessary relation between the process of actual experience and education.

John Dewey, 1938

What is Experiential Learning?

  • Experiential learning is just what it sounds like, the process of learning through experience!
  • It’s typically seen as learning through reflection and doing
  • Hands-on learning can be a form of experiential learning, but isn’t always because the act of reflection is the most important component in experiential learning.
  • Students play an active role in learning, instead of leaning back and taking in information, they are actively engaging in the material through reflection, conversation and practice.

Experiential learning is learning through action, learning by doing, learning through experience, and learning through discovery and exploration. 

When is it effective?

Experiential learning helps bridge classroom study and life in the world and to transform inert knowledge into knowledge-in-use.

How can it be used best in professional/career education?

Within professional programs, there is a long tradition of including field experiences as a way to build practitioner skills and facilitate the move from theory to practice. Two of the most common forms of workplace learning are cooperative education and the internship.

Training classes can also utilize problem based learning. Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. This problem is what drives the motivation and the learning. 

Click below for a helpful resource on PBL developed in my current role while working with facilitators.

Putting the Experiential Learning Theory into Practice! – I wrote the below reflection paper after completing a course on adult learning and reading John Dewey’s Experience & Education.

The above paper is written on the subject of John Dewey’s Experience & Education. This assignment put theory into practice by having students participate in first reading the text, then completing assignments, and then reflecting on the work done. 

Important Note:

The most critical factor for achieving powerful learning outcomes from experiential learning programs is the inclusion of opportunities for feedback and reflection. This can be accomplished with discussions, journaling, etc. An example is the Dewey reflection paper linked above.

Watch the helpful video below!

Below is a short video of an overview of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. An understanding of this model can help professionals in learning and development target their audiences and learners more effectively. 


Eyler, J. (2009). The power of experiential education. Liberal Education, 95 (4), retrieved from   https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/power-experiential-education

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience & education. New York: Touchstone

Ross-Gordon, J.M., Rose, A.D., & Kasworm, C.E. (2017). Foundations of adult and continuing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.