Experiential Learning

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”  ~ Alvin Toffler

What is Experiential Learning?


~ Association for Experiential Education

Digital Human Library has embraced Kolb’s EL Theory of Learning which is based on work by John Dewey, along with other notable theorists such as Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, Carl Rogers, and William James.

In Kolb’s theory, “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”

Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle chart

Experiences are transformed when a learner progresses through all 4 stages of Kolb’s EL Learning Cycle:

  1. having a concrete experience followed by 
  2. observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to 
  3. the formation of new knowledge and abstract concepts which are then 
  4. applied to test hypotheses in future situations, resulting in new experiences.

What’s most important about Kolb’s research is that effective learning only occurs when a learner can execute all four stages of the model. Therefore, no one stage of the cycle is effective or constitutes learning on its own. 

Simply having an experience, without time spent reflecting, consolidating, and actively experimenting with your new skills or knowledge will not yield learning.

At Digital Human Library, we believe that learning should be experiential with a focus on 8 Foundational Principles of Practice.

Foundational Principles of Practice

While Kolb’s cycle provides a structure and skill-based process for experiential learning, EL is mobilized by what we believe are 8 Foundational Principles of Practice. Principles of Practice provide a starting point and a foundation for a close analysis of your own professional practice and the extent to which deep learning is occurring in your classroom. They are designed to help you reflect on where you are now, where you would like to be, and how you consider moving forward.

8 Foundational Principles of Practice graphic
Experiential Education Principle of Practice intention definition

Intention begins with your why…

All learners must be clear from the beginning why the experience is the chosen approach to learning. Intention represents the purposefulness that enables the experience to become knowledge and as such, is deeper than the goals, objectives, and activities that define the experience.

When you know your why, your what become more clear and impactful.

Core Elements of Learning

Intention need to focus on the design of learning experiences in consideration of 4 core elements of learning:

Modern Pedagogies

The skillful integration of research-based pedagogies with new modern pedagogies to inform how we design, monitor and assess learning (i.e. experiential learning, inquiry-based learning, project and problem-based learning, design thinking, etc).

Learning Environment

The third teacher. The climate and culture we create for learning that’s openly accessible anytime, anywhere. These are the spaces where students are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning both offline and online.

Learning Partnerships

The ways we enhance learning and cultivate character and citizenship by connecting students, teachers, families, and a potentially global learning community.

Digital Technologies

The ways we embed technology to accelerate, diversify and add value to learning by creating new pathways to access and apply knowledge and explore learning partnerships beyond the classroom.

Global Competencies

Global Competencies/ Transferrable Skills are the skill sets that each and every student needs to achieve in order to flourish in today’s complex world.

Global Competencies
Ontario Ministry of Education 2017<br><em> This work is adapted from the 21st Century Competencies <em><br><em>Framework Document for Discussion and the Council of Ministers of Education Canada CMEC<em>

When we plan around our intentions, we shift our focus from the products of learning, to the process of learning.

Experiential Education Principle of Practice Relationships & Training

Meaningful relationships are multi-layered, and extend beyond the relationships students have with themselves, with each other, and with you, their teacher.

We also need to plan and prepare for:

  • the relationships students have with their learning environments
  • the relationships students have with community (local and global) learning partners
  • the relationships students have with technology
  • and we need to understand the relationships students have with the process of learning
Experiencial Education Principle of Practice Authenticity

Relationships bring a certain level of authenticity to any experience. Authentic experiences are meaningful to the learner because they are grounded in the ‘real world’ – the world students associate with outside of school.

In many ways EL can serve as the bridge between school, home, business and community because students are exploring new places, connecting with new people, and co-designing their own experiences and opportunities for growth.

One of the ways EL serves as a bridge is through the integration of social media into our classroom programs. Social media lends itself beautifully to EL because the nature of the platforms themselves provide an unlimited number of learning experiences to the user, while bringing together the principles of authenticity and relationships – leaving intention up to the individual.

Experiential Education Principle of Practice Reflection

Reflection is an act of looking back in order to process experiences. Metacognition, a type of reflection, is a way of thinking about your own thinking in order to grow.

Reflection is second stage in Kolb’s EL cycle, but it also deserves attention as foundational principle of practice. Teaching your students to practice reflection in a variety of ways will help them develop as more metacognitive thinkers.

Reflection is a mindset and an intention action that can transform a simple experience into a learning experience.

For knowledge to be discovered and internalized, a learner must test assumptions and hypotheses about the outcomes of his/her decisions and actions, then weigh the outcomes against past learning and what may happen in the future. This reflective process is integral to all phases of EL, from identifying intention and choosing the experience, to considering preconceptions and observing or adjusting how they change as the experience unfolds. Reflection is necessary for us to measure our success.

Experiential Education Principle of Practice Monitoring & Continuous Improvement

Any learning activity can be dynamic and engaging, but what matters is that the process of learning provides the richest learning experience possible. The feedback loop is paramount to every student’s success.

As such, the learning process needs to be sufficiently flexible to allow for change in response to what that feedback suggests. While reflection acts as a catalyst for new hypotheses and knowledge based on our documented experiences, other strategies for assessing progress against our intentions should also be in place. (i.e. blogging, conferencing with students, parents, educators, admin… , professional learning communities, mentorship, etc.)

Experiential Education Principle of Practice Assessment and Evaluation

In order to assess and evaluate learning. processes should be documented with regard to your intentions and identified learning outcomes for later reflection.

Assessment is a means to develop and refine the specific learning goals and success criteria identified during the planning and process stages of the experience, while evaluation provides comprehensive data about the experiential process as a whole and whether it has successfully met your intentions and goals.

Experiential Education Principle of Practice Celebrate

Recognition of learning needs to be intentionally integrated throughout the experience by way of the reflective and monitoring processes, documentation, and sharing of accomplishments.

Celebration of learning not only provides closure to a cycle of learning, but maybe more importantly, motivates learners to begin another.


Experiential learning by nature ignites rich conversations about how learning happens and the important work we do as educators. And as you reflect on your why and on your own intentions, in consideration of how relationships impact learning, we hope you reflect on EL as an opportunity to integrate authentic learning experiences into your classroom program that immerse students in the process of learning, with opportunities for reflection, monitoring, and assessment of their own process, progress and achievement. Celebrate!

Connections-based Learning

Our connections-based approach to learning is based on our experiential model of learning positioning relationships at the heart of why and how we create opportunities for deep learning with students.

Research on Experiential Learning

A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning PDF – Michael Fullan, Mark Treadwell, et al.

Community-Connected Experiential Learning – Ontario Ministry of Education

Connections-based Learning Sean Robinson

Council for Experiential Learning Strategic Plan – Ontario Council for Experiential Learning

Digital Human Library: Bring the Field Trip Experience Into The ClassroomLeigh Cassell

Experiential Learning & Co-op – Council of Ontario Universities

Online Communication Will Open New Doors for Community in 2018 – Amy McCooe, EdSurge

Ontario Language Arts Curriculum – Ontario Ministry of Education

The Importance of Learning Through Relationships – Stacey Goodman, Edutopia

Videoconferencing for Global Citizenship Education: Wise Practices for Social Studies Educators – Daniel G. Krutka & Kenneth T. Carano

What is Service Learning or Community Engagement? – Vanderbilt University, Centre for Teaching

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