The Importance of Experiential Learning for Adults
Are you looking for a fresh, impactful way to engage your adult learners and guarantee their success after graduation? Experiential learning, a modern alternative to traditional education, is the answer.
Read on to learn more about how and why this pedagogy is so powerful.
What is Experiential Learning?
Experiential learning is an innovative educational pedagogy based on the theory that students learn best through active participation in real-world experiences. Work-integrated learning and project-based learning are two branches of experiential learning often included in today’s higher education curriculums.
Educational theorist David Kolb, the developer of the experiential learning theory, described it as a ‘cycle’ with four main points:
- Abstract conceptualisation
- Active experimentation
- Concrete experience
- Reflective observation
In other words, through the experiential learning cycle, students will research and actively experiment with a subject by engaging in real-world tasks. They will then reflect upon what they have learned.
Some examples of experiential learning activities universities could offer include:
- Excursions to relevant places, such as building sites for architecture students or hospitals for nursing students,
- Developing a smartphone app to solve a pressing real-world need,
- Interactive simulations (i.e., flight simulations for aviation students).
By offering this type of education, educators will enjoy a more attentive classroom, better attendance and retention rates, and vastly improved employment outcomes for their students.
The Benefits of Offering Experiential Learning Experiences
Experiential learning experiences can have immense benefits for students, educators, and learning institutions. Several recent studies have identified the power of experiential learning in boosting employment outcomes, raising retention rates, and improving the higher education experience for students and educators alike.
Read on if you’re keen to learn more about how experiential learning experiences can benefit your adult learners.
Create real-world relevance
With traditional education, many students feel detached from the actual results of their work—they might receive a letter or percentage grade, but they’ll fail to see how their efforts affect the real world. Experiential learning tackles this problem head-on.
For example, a traditional law school project might involve researching and commenting on a recent case. After completing projects like these, students usually receive a grade reflecting how well they gathered information and presented their findings—but students might never know why researching and understanding the case is so important.
An experiential learning alternative to this project could involve a simulated courtroom environment. Students could see how witness statements, evidence presentations, and trials play out in real-time, gaining a stronger understanding of the genuine impact of their work.
With experiential learning, students also absorb information more readily than in a traditional classroom environment. Teaching complex topics becomes significantly easier for educators, especially with ongoing feedback and reflection between teacher and student.
As educators, we know practising a skill strengthens connections in the brain, making information easier to absorb. Since experiential learning involves hands-on practice and real-time problem solving, these connections strengthen faster, so students are ready to move onto more complex tasks sooner than with traditional education.
Provide opportunities for collaboration
You’re likely well aware of the benefits of collaboration between students, educators, peers, and mentors alike. Since experiential learning tasks are hands-on and ongoing, there are plenty of opportunities for students to connect with a much vaster range of people than they would in traditional schooling.
Want to learn more? Download the ‘Quality in Online Project-Based Learning’ white paper to see how top institutions are using experiential learning.
Why Your Adult Learners Need Experiential Education
Experiential learning has been popular in early education settings for a while now—but higher education institutions are starting to see the benefits and jump on board, too. In fact, experiential education is essential for educators hoping to improve employment outcomes and prepare their adult learners for the challenges of daily life.
Now, let’s dive into some of the key reasons experiential education is so important for adult learners.
Through experiential education, you can deliver real-world experiences to your adult learners. As we touched on above, your learners will see the results of their work in real-time, which is highly motivating and encouraging for many students.
If boosting employment rates is your goal, offering real-world experiences is one of the best ways to go about it. Adult students can gain genuine, hands-on experience in their chosen field through adult learning experiences such as:
- Work placements, whether in-person or virtual
- Volunteer work
For example, a computer science student could enter a week-long internship or placement at a local web development company, helping the staff work on an ongoing project. This experience will give the student the applied knowledge and industry connections they’ll need to succeed in their future career.
Opportunities for deep reflection
One of the four aspects of Kolb’s experiential learning model is ‘reflective observation’. This point is all about students developing observations about their experiences and reflecting on the learning process.
Deep reflection allows adult learners to make sense of the subject or material they have experimented with, especially concerning their unique interests, skills, and goals. Encouraging your students to reflect upon their work will empower them to take responsibility for their learning, improving their memory, motivation, and performance.
Another aspect of Kolb’s model is ‘active experimentation’. This point involves students using theories to make decisions and solve real-world problems.
For example, an urban planning student might identify a problem with bus schedules in their community. To actively solve this problem, the student could work in a group to develop a plan for change or collect signatures to deliver to a local government authority.
Encouraging your students to make active choices will deepen their understanding of the topic and significantly improve their information recall.
Leadership and collaboration
Leadership and collaboration skills are essential for success in adult life, regardless of a student’s chosen career path. Whether they’re supervising a team or working on a household budget with their partner, your students will benefit from the communication skills experiential learning for adults can help build.
Suppose a student’s project involves raising money for a local charity. In that case, they can build leadership skills by presenting their fundraising plan to the community and actively promoting the event. They’ll build collaboration skills in much the same way—through communicating with their fundraising team and customers.
Initiative and accountability
While experiential learning involves plenty of teamwork and collaboration, ultimately, it’s a self-driven pedagogy. Under the guidance of educators and peers, students take responsibility for their learning, making decisions and solving problems independently.
When students lose points on an essay or assignment, they might not understand where they went wrong. As educators, we can try to instruct students on how to improve, but nothing can beat the benefits of seeing the real-time ramifications of their self-directed learning.
When students take accountability for mistakes and problems as they occur, they can learn how to solve them. This experience will give your adult learners the confidence and skills they need to tackle problems in their future lives.
Why Experiential Learning is the Future for Higher Education
In today’s rapidly developing society, higher education institutions and educators must learn to best serve their students. Here are some key reasons why experiential learning is the future for higher education.
Bridge the gap between theory and practice
Many higher education institutions still teach theoretical skills without applying them to real-world scenarios. But studies have shown that bridging the gap between adult learning theory and practice is critical for success.
According to a 2009 study of medical students, learning and retaining the new skill of endotracheal intubation was significantly easier for experiential education students than guided education students. At three months, 64.5% of experiential education students completed their task, while only 36.9% of guided students were successful. The experiential success rate for experiential learning students grew to 86% at 12 months.
Personalise learning experiences
You can personalise your students’ learning experiences to suit their unique interests and skills through experiential learning. There’s no more standardised testing where every student works on the same task. Instead, you can call upon Kolb’s learning style model to discover projects and activities that will ignite your students’ curiosities and motivate them to succeed.
As higher education institutions recognise the Kolb learning styles and see the benefits of personalising tasks, retention rates and employability rankings will soar.
Prepare adult students for success in work and life
Universities hoping to boost employability rankings and provide their students with a clear path to success will benefit from offering adult experiential learning.
As educators, there’s no better feeling than seeing your hard work and guidance pay off. By offering experiential learning experiences, you can help build the hard and soft skills your learners will need to find employment and tackle challenges they may face in their daily lives.
Implementing Experiential Learning with Practera
Practera’s experiential learning platform allows educators to deliver powerful learning experiences that make a real difference. Using the platform’s convenient and practical features, you’ll be able to engage, encourage, and drive your adult learners to succeed.
Some of Practera’s key features for educators include:
- Streamlined communications between students, educators, and employers
- An extensive, pre-built template library for instantly delivering impactful learning experiences
- Detailed analytics displaying your students’ performance in a single pane
- Automated peer feedback loops
- Simplified progress and performance tracking