Based on research (Kolb, 1984; Wurdinger, 2005; Roberts, 2015) and the work of national organizations such as the Association for Experiential Education, and the National Society for Experiential Education, the six best practices that define high-quality experiential learning opportunities (ELOs) at The University of Alabama are:

  • Intentionality

    Intentional ELOs:

    • Are well-designed on or off-campus experiences in which the purpose of the experience is clear (ELOs can be curricular or co-curricular)
    • Are focused on real-world contexts that:
      • Exemplify relevant post-graduation situations
      • Are perceived as authentic by those within the setting and by students
      • Provide structured opportunities for student learning
    • Provide opportunities for students to apply knowledge and skills in solving complex real-world problems
  • Preparedness

    Student preparedness to participate in ELOs involves:

    • Training and/or practice using relevant knowledge and skills
    • An orientation to the real-world context that includes a discussion of the complexities inherent in the context
  • Regular Monitoring & Feedback

    ELOs are defined by regular monitoring & feedback that:

    • Informs students’ learning and performance in the real-world context
      • feedback can be formal or informal
      • feedback can be provided by the faculty/staff member, students’ peers, and/or individuals with whom the student will interact (internship supervisors, community partners, etc.)
    • Examples include but are not limited to: assignments, evaluations, meetings, discussion board feedback, etc.
  • Reflection

    ELOs include student reflections on:

    • Problems encountered in the ELO and how they dealt with them–strategies used, outcomes
    • How the experience connects with their academic work
    • The experience itself; what they learned from it; future applications
  • Assessment

    Assessment of ELOs focuses on:

    • Student Pre-reflections and post-reflections on their involvement in the ELO
  • Evaluation

    The evaluation of ELOs involves:

    • Articulating connections between the ELO and student learning (may include faculty/staff reflections on content, process, student perceptions)
    • Reflection on whether or not the ELO met your original intentions, and why
    • Identifying areas for future improvements, as well as successes

More about Experiential Learning

Scholarship on the origin of experiential learning, examples and best practices of experiential learning, and evidence of the benefits of using experiential learning to support students’ real-world problem solving skills informed the development of UA’s Learning in Action Quality Enhancement Plan.

The experiential learning best practices that support The University of Alabama’s QEP draw on multiple sources; these include David A. Kolb’s (1984) four-stage model of experiential learning, and principles recognized by both the National Society for Experiential Education and the Association for Experiential Education.

Though there is no universally accepted definition of experiential learning, scholars have proposed a variety of definitions with several common elements.  Wurdinger (2005) states, “Experiential learning is a reactive process in which learning occurs by reflecting on previous experiences” (p. 8).  Clements (1995) defines it as “immersing students in an activity (ideally, closely related to course material) and then asking for their reflection on the experience” (p. 116).  Stevens and Richards (1992) describe it as a process wherein students are engaged in an experience with real consequences, rather than learning about others’ experiences, and they reflect on their experiences to develop “new skills, new attitudes, and new theories or ways of thinking” (p. 2).

The Association for Experiential Education acknowledges the complexity and connecting points within experience-based approaches to education by defining experiential education as:

“challenge and experience, followed by reflection, leading to learning and growth” (www.aee.org/what-is-ee).

References

Clements, A. D. (1995). Experiential-learning activities in undergraduate developmental psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 115-118.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

National Society for Experiential Education. (2013). Eight principles of good practice for all experiential learning activities.  Retrieved from http://www.nsee.org/8-principles

Roberts, J.W. (2015). Experiential education in the college context: What it is, how it works, and why it matters. New York: Routledge.

Stevens, P. W., & Richards, A. (1992). Changing schools through experiential education. ERIC Digest, ED 345929. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.

Wurdinger, S. D. (2005). Using experiential learning in the classroom: Practical ideas for all educators. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow.