Experiential learning promotes academic inquiry through real-world activities, research, and situations. While experiential and hands-on learning are sometimes confused, or treated as synonymous; this is not entirely accurate. In fact, experiential learning can take place within or outside of the classroom, or even through video, rather than in-person learning. According to the Center for Experiential Inquiry at the University of Colorado Denver, experiential learning contains multiple elements, regardless of the subject.

All experiential learning experiences should include: 

  1. Reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
  2. Opportunities for students to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results.
  3. Opportunities for students to engage intellectually, creatively, emotionally, socially, or physically.
  4. A designed learning experience that includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes, and successes. 

The criteria included below can apply effectively both in a classroom setting, and in a video learning environment.

The Benefits of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning activities provide students with the ability to apply learning in various ways and in different scenarios. In many cases, experiential learning experiences can help students to grow both personally and professionally, gaining understanding that they can carry well past their college years. 

  • Experiential learning accelerates the learning process.
  • The ability to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes in a safe environment facilitates lasting understanding.
  • Students are engaged through the process of experiential learning, and student retention increases.
  • Experiential learning bridges gaps between theory or book learning and practice, or real-world applications. 

Facilitating Experiential Learning Online

Traditional examples of experiential learning include study abroad, internships, and some community service projects; however, experiential learning may also occur in virtual learning environments. For online students, many of these experiences may be out of reach, but instructors and course designers can integrate key aspects of experiential learning into video-based courses or hybrid learning environments. In addition, video can be used to facilitate and improve experiential learning experiences in the real world. 

Four stages or steps can help to guide the planning and creation of online experiential learning, or supplemental video materials for real-world experiential learning.

  1. Doing and exploring.
  2. Reflecting and sharing.
  3. Analyzing and processing.
  4. Generalizing and applying.

Within online or video learning, instructors can facilitate experiential learning by creating real-world examples or projects for students, encouraging collaboration, and implementing the four-stage experiential learning model suggested here.

Depending upon the subject and the organization of the course, this could take many different forms in a video or online learning environment.

  • Students could engage in real-world experiential learning and bring it back to a virtual classroom to reflect and share, analyze and process, and generalize and apply.
  • They could work on individual projects that facilitate experiential learning, and come together for the process, or could collaborate in small groups on projects, then come together to share what they have learned.
  • Instructors could pose real-world scenarios, and ask students to explore the problem-solving process using the steps or stages of experiential learning.