Experiential Learning – A Guide

  • Anagha Vallikat
    Anagha Vallikat

Experiential learning engages students by teaching them real-life scenarios through knowledge, practical activity, and reflection. This a technique that teachers shouldn't brush aside.

Experiential learning helps students engage in the learning process where they learn concepts/topics by doing them in the real world and reflecting on the experience gained from it. Experiential learning includes internships, field exercises, research, undergraduate research programs, hands-on laboratory experiments, practicums, community-based research, service-learning, student teaching, studio performances, and studying abroad.

Well-planned and systematic experiential learning programs help students learn about civic engagement, interdisciplinary learning, cultural awareness, intellectual skills, career development, leadership, and other professional skills.

Elements of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning has certain elements, such as:

  • Opportunities for the students to make decisions, take initiative and be responsible for the outcomes
  • Other opportunities to engage in the studies, socially, creatively, physically, and emotionally
  • Critical analysis, reflection, and synthesis
  • Experiences that help students get hands-on learning, mistakes, failures, and success
  • Insight into their passions, interests, skills, and values that help them grow and get more clarity
  • Positive professional experience, skillset, and practices
  • Helps gain leadership qualities and self-confidence

How does it work?

Experiential learning has many components that make it work. Kolb's Cycle of Experiential Learning depicts the system and learning process in detail. It includes several integrations, such as:

  • Knowledge – Consisting of facts, information, and concepts acquired from the learnings and real-life execution or experience of the learnings
  • Activity – Execution of the learning in a real-world setting
  • Reflection – It states the outcomes or results of the activity and knowledge. It also includes the analysis of the outcome or synthesis of the experiential learnings.

Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning includes four components, such as:

  1. Active experimentation – It involves testing new ideas and concepts and honing the skills into a unique experience for the students.
  2. Concrete experience – It helps engage students directly with the authentic situation in the real world and helps them grow along with it.
  3. Abstract conceptualization – This helps distil the perceptions into more abstract concepts of the learnings.
  4. Reflective observation – The last component is observation, noticing what is going on and what has happened. It relates conceptual understanding and experience to experiential learning.

What does experiential learning look like?

The process of experiential learning looks something like this:

  • Students carefully choose experiences for their learning skills and potential. These skills provide them with various career opportunities, deepen their emergent skills, and support new learning patterns.
  • Throughout the process of experiential learning, students are engaged in posing questions actively, experimenting, investigating, and solving the problems with curiosity. They make their own decisions and are accountable for the results.
  • Learning and reflection are the two integral components of experiential learning. It also leads to analysis, synthesis, and critical thinking that further enhances the learning process.
  • All the learners or students are engaged socially, intellectually, physically, and socially in experiential learning. It helps them execute authentic and real-life tasks with ease.

Observational Learning

Observational learning helps students learn by watching and analyzing the behavior of others. The behavior is watched, memorized, and mimicked. Observational learning is one of the most common learning patterns in children – they do what they see in their surroundings. Usually, people don't imitate everyone – they imitate people who are like them, have a better understanding of topics/concepts, are superior to them and are experts, and are rewarded for their behavior to nurture them and help them grow.  

Processes of observational learning

The four essential processes of observational learning are as follows:

  1. Attention – The first process in observational learning is attention. To learn something, the first step is to observe and pay attention to everything around us. It is required to notify the behavioral patterns of a person to understand more in detail. It tells us the current mood of the person and the degree of likeness.
  2. Retention – The next step in observational learning is to retain the behaviour of the person. Attention doesn't work in isolation. It requires retention. To retain more information, it is essential to pay attention and remember everything in an easy-to-understand format. The behaviour needs to be remembered to achieve daily actions with as little effort as possible.
  3. Reproduction – The third step is to reproduce or perform the behavior in the real world. Retention doesn’t work if it is not executed, which is easier said than done. Adapting a new behavior and implementing it in real life is complex and requires various months or years. It takes hours of practice to obtain the new skills.
  4. Motivation – The last process in observational learning is motivation. All learning requires personal motivation up to an extent. The observer must be motivated up to a certain degree to produce the desired outcomes. The motivation can either be intrinsic or extrinsic.


Experiential learning is a process that makes students and learners gain experience and learn by doing the tasks. It means observing, analyzing, synthesizing, and executing the learnings. Experiential learning prepares students for the real world by developing students’ problem-solving, decision making, and critical thinking skills.

It consists of various forms, such as studio performances, community-based research, internships, field exercises, etc. Through these techniques, experiential learning helps students get ready for real-world opportunities. It is one of the reasons why it has become prevalent over the last few years.