The Power of Experiential Learning

Posted: September 19, 2011 in Monday Morning Message
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This week is my youngest daughter, Kylie’s sixth birthday. She is an energetic, fun-loving, people person who really learns by doing rather than hearing. For homework, my children are required to read (or be read to) for 20 minutes each day and this can be quite a challenge for her (and me as you might imagine).

Knowing the way she is wired and some of the challenges that I had as a young person, we make sure that every book we read is really an event rather than an assignment. For instance, last night we started reading, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain. When she saw how big the book was and that there were no pictures in it, I could see all of her energy and life drain right from her body.

I had her go to her room and get her favorite hat and her butterfly net and told her we weren’t going to just read about Tom Sawyer, we were going to experience what he experienced. Her eyes lit up and she scurried off to get her things. The bed served as a big paddle boat and we started off on our adventure. When we were done, the questions came pouring in, “Daddy, what does a Ferry Boat look like? Why couldn’t Tom’s aunt find him? Where is the Mississippi River??

Because experiential learning is active learning, students more readily understand what they are learning and thus retain the knowledge to a greater degree than when merely having information presented to them by another. The hands-on nature of experiential learning is highly motivating for youth and adults alike. When we use an experiential approach to learning not only do we make learning fun and exciting, we also engage people in the process of learning, we invite them to be a part of the discovery.

Edgar Dale was an educator who developed the famous “Cone of Experience”. Dale’s Cone explores an individual’s capacity to retain information based on the types of experiences in which they received that information (see diagram below).

Dale's Cone

One of the cool things about 4-H, is that a lot of our learning is very hands-on! Our young people are on their way to thriving because we foster an environment where they can develop a sense of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. Today’s message in a nutshell is, “KEEP DOING WHAT YOUR DOING!” Keep providing opportunities for youth to have new experiences, reflect on those experiences and apply them to their everyday lives.

For more information on the 4-H Experiential Learning Website at http://www.experientiallearning.ucdavis.edu/default.shtml

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