Experiential Learning

Overview of the Theory:

Experiential learning theory is a four-stage cyclical theory of learning. It combines experience, perception, cognition, and behavior.
During the first stage (concrete experience), the learner actively experiences an activity. An example of this would be doing a lab. The second stage (reflective observation), is where the learner reflects on that experience. The third stage (abstract conceptualization), the learner arrives at a concept or generalization as a result of what is observed. In the fourth stage (active experimentation), the learner tries to plan how to test a model, theory, or plan for their next experience.


Relationship to Other Theories:

Experiential Learning





Require active participation to learn.
Cognitivism views learning as a change in a person's schema. Experiential learning believes learning is a transformation of experience.

Learning builds upon previous knowledge.
Cognitivism focuses on the inner mental activities, whereas experiential learning focuses on experiences and reflection.

Place an emphasis on cognition.
Cognitivism believes inner mind processes take place and influence how things are learned, compared to experiential learning which believes a person's experience, reflection, formation of abstract concepts, and ability to test the concepts in a new situation affect how things are learned.

Social Activism Theory

Use ideas from John Dewey.
The Social Activism Theory focuses on learning for children, whereas experiential learning is targeted towards adults and higher education.

Believe people should understand and engage in hands-on experiences to learn.
The Social Activism Theory placed an importance on the emotional, artistic, and creative aspects of human development in curriculum. Experiential learning signifies experiences as the only means to successful learning.

Learning is active.

Founders of the Experiential Theory:

Kurt Lewin (1890-1947)
Kurt Lewin (1890-1947)

Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) was originally a Gestalt pshychologist in Berlin. He later moved to the USA and began theoretical studies on adult learning and group work. Many consider him the "grandfather" of experiential learning.

David A. Kolb
David A. Kolb

David A. Kolb (1939- ) developed the Experiential Learning Model (ELM) in the 1970's. His model was designed mainly for adult education and focused on concrete experience, observation and reflection of the experience, development of abstract concepts from the reflection, and testing of the concepts.

Ron Fry
Ron Fry

Ron Fry partnered with David A. Kolb in the 1970's to develop the Experiential Learning Model. Both are now working at the Weatherhead School of Management.



Educational Implications:

1. The students will do active experimentation
2. The teacher will follow the Experiential Learning Cycle
3. Students and teachers will think abstractly
4. Students will receive critical reflections by their teacher
5. The classroom will be based on four different experiential stages of learning

Technology Implications:

  • Check out this short video to get a quick look at technology implications, relating to Experiential Learning

Articles Regarding the Experiential Theory:

Article #1:
Kolb’s theory is most widely known in higher education. The theory has different stages that correlate with different learning styles. It talks about the four stages of the theory which are experience, reflect, generalization, and test, which go along with distinct learning styles. The experiential learning theory helps students recognize their preferred learning style. The article also talks about how Kolb’s theory ensures that a range of teaching methods are used in the classroom. The theory lets students reflect on the learning and then in turn, the teacher will provide feedback. It is also helpful because it can be used in individual or group work. The article summarized what Kolb’s experiential learning theory is, and how it can be used in higher education.
I thought that the article was beneficial for me to read because I know understand Kolb’s learning theory better know. I wish that the article would have talked more about how it affects K-12 education.

Reference: Healey, M. (2000). Kolb’s experiential learning theory and its application in geography in higher education. Journal of Geography, 99(5), 185-195.
Kolb's experiential learning theory and its application in geography in higher education

Article 2
This article talks about how they are using dance to help the students better obtain the information learned. Moving your body around while learning facts/skills in the classroom help get blood flow moving and help to create better memory.
I know from experience that this is a very useful key to utilize, if you can. I am doing a practicum right now and my co-teachers have been talking about how they have the students sit on bouncy balls instead of chairs. Getting the blood flowing lets more oxygen go to your brain, hence better learning. I know that in my Sped 414 class we do brain breaks so we can get the blood flow moving. Doing this is very useful and helps to retain the knowledge.


Robelen, E. (n.d.). Schools Intergrated Dance Into Lessons. Eric Database, 12.

Article #3: "Experiential learning in the scholarship of teaching and learning"
In the article "Experiential learning in the scholarship of teacing and learning", readers learn how professors are using experiential learning to improve their teaching strategies. In many colleges, professors and teachers are transferring from their superior positions into novice students in order to better understand students' perspectives. This implements the experiential learning theory because the professors are actively experiencing classes as a student and then using critical reflection to determine ways to make their teaching methods better. By becoming a student again, teachers are becoming more aware of the various learning strategies students use in classes.
I thought this article was very interesting. I enjoyed the idea of using experiential learning to better myself as a teacher. This is a method I could personally use to better understand my students. By sitting in on another teacher's class or taking a class on my own, I could better understand how students engage themselves in classes and learn best. It would also help me learn new ways to get my students' attention and keep it throughout the entire class period. Overall, I think this article is very helpful for all educators.

Benander, A. (2009). Experiential learning in the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Jounal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9(2), 36-41. http://www.eric.edgov/PDFS/EJ854893.pdf

Concept Map: