Experiential learning is “the process whereby knowledge is created through transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984, p. 38). The benefits of experiential learning include increasing student engagement, supporting various learning styles, and fostering the link between ...
Experiential learning is “the process whereby knowledge is created through transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984, p. 38). The benefits of experiential learning include increasing student engagement, supporting various learning styles, and fostering the link between theory and practice.
Shifting from traditional educational approaches can be unsettling; however, the benefits of experiential learning for students and educators make this exciting new challenge worthwhile. First, evaluate and reflect upon your teaching. Consider these questions:
If you are not certain that you can respond positively to some or all of these questions, think about where and how experiential learning activities might fit.
Experiential learning takes on many forms, including undergraduate research, internships, and field work experiences. I have found great joy in facilitating simulated learning experiences (SLE) in my classroom. SLEs are focused activities for students to actively apply information to real-life situations (Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders, 2019). Put simply, I teach about a topic and create experiences for my students to directly apply the content. Although the simulations I have developed are medically focused, they are easily adaptable to various content areas and across disciplines.
Each year, I reflect upon my teaching and revise course content and activities. Three years ago, when I revisited my course content and activities for revision, I couldn't help but feel like something was missing from my classroom. I taught valuable, clinically relevant content but was not confident that students could apply it. I explored strategies to bridge academic content to real-life clinical situations. For me, SLEs just made sense. In the past, I used case study questions and asked students to think through a case and script the exact language they would use to talk to the patient and their family members. But now my students demonstrate exactly what they would do in these same challenging situations. This was my eureka moment! I observed my students engaging with the content in a different way and saw them navigating real-life scenarios in a safe learning space with their peers. It also helps that we have a little bit of fun while we learn. One recent graduate reflected on their favorite graduate school experience and said,
Completing the in-person simulations during my first semester of graduate school (Fall 2020) was such a fun experience! My peers and I really grew together through preparation, collaboration, and charting. I distinctly remember the “curveballs” we were thrown during each simulation and how each of us responded. It makes me smile reflecting on the progress each of us have made in the past year.
This quote perfectly captures the benefits of experiential learning for students and educators. After all, isn’t this why we became educators? Experiential learning activities help educators engage students in a different way and bridge academic content to the world outside the course.
David Kolb, an educational theorist, identified key components of experiential learning activities and highlighted the importance of balancing the experience with reflective components. Students reevaluate previously held beliefs and actions and transform the way they approach tasks. Kolb suggested a different way of teaching and thinking about our students overall. Some educators focus on the concrete details of the content and consider only the student identity when looking out into a classroom. Instead, Kolb suggested thinking about our students holistically in consideration of all their identities and to consider how those identities influence their responses during experiential learning activities. Experiential learning helps students actualize the content and emphasizes the continuum of learning (Kolb, 1984).
It is essential that educators shift away from the “right answer” and are satisfied with the process of learning. Success in my classroom is not defined by students answering a test question correctly. I am a successful educator with successful students when I see their wheels turning during SLEs. I throw out curveballs for students to navigate in-the-moment problem solving and engage in the process of learning. I am highly intentional with this process and explicitly state that the purpose of each SLE is not a right answer; rather, the objective is learning.
Educators must understand that each student enters the classroom space with different beliefs, feelings, and attitudes, and we should capitalize on these unique variables to facilitate powerful discussion and learning opportunities. Although a meaningful experience is important, deep reflection and conversation are essential components of the learning process. At the end of each SLE, I facilitate a large group discussion. Students reflect on their performance and that of their peers. They discuss how prior experiences influenced their decision making and reflect on how they might handle the situation differently next time. I am careful not to say that the situation was handled correctly or not. Rather, I emphasize the individual responses and facilitate a discussion on various ways to navigate challenging situations.
Experiential learning integrated into classroom activities helps facilitate a deeper level of thinking. These experiences accelerate understanding and use of the content outside the classroom. As Kolb (1984) suggested, experience helps transforms academic content, and educators get to witness the process of learning unfold.
Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders [CAPCSD]. (2019). Best practices in healthcare simulations: Communication sciences and disorders. https://growthzonesitesprod.azureedge.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/1023/2020/03/Best-Practices-in-CSD.pdf
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Cody Marie Busch, EdD, CCC-SLP, is an assistant professor and clinic director at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department. Her research interests include use of simulated learning experiences in the classroom and interprofessional education.