When Learning is Experienced – A 21st Century Approach

experiential learningExperiential learning is an evidenced-based technique that really helps children learn and retain information. It also happens to be one of the 4 pillars of The Willow School program in Vero Beach, Florida. Experiential learning incorporates techniques that encourage students to engage in their learning on a multi-sensory level. This means that they use their auditory, visual and kinesthetic senses to not just think about the learning but to experience it. Research has shown that when students are engaged in their work with more than one sense they learn faster, retain the information better and it’s more fun.

This is not to say that lecture doesn’t have a place in today’s classroom, but it is best to limit “lectures” to 15 minute mini-lessons. After the mini-lesson multi-sensory activities are done to reinforce the concepts presented. This helps the new information really stick.

Experiential learning places its emphasis on building skills like: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and both written and oral communication skills. These are often referred to as the 4 C’s. It is important to weave these into experiential activities as research has shown these are critical for success in the 21st century.

So what might an experiential activity actually look like? Here are some examples that you could try:

experiential learning2Student debates: These can be individual or group, graded or not. They allow students the opportunity to take a position and gather data to support that view. It involves team work and collaboration as well as critically thinking about an argument and developing one logically. A good strategy is to require the students to argue both sides of an issue. This helps students see both points of view. Debates also give students experience with verbal presentations aiding in their communication skills.

Think-Pair-Share: Give students a task such as a question or problem to solve. Have them work on this alone at first (think). Then have them discuss their ideas with their partner (pair). Finally, choose a student from each team to share their ideas with the whole class (share). This acitvity encourages creativity, critical thinking, collaboration as well as verbal and written communication.

Collaborative learning groups:  Assign students to groups of 3-5 students. They choose a leader and a secretary. They are given a task/project to work on together that may last one day or even a month. The group produces a group answer, paper or project to “show what they know.” This has hundreds of applications from a simple class room activity to something like a play that can be written and developed over a longer period of time. Depending on the parameters for the activity, many skills are re-enforced as well as significant content learned.

Learning is truly experienced using any of the techniques above. Students also report that having a variety of activities throughout the class day makes learning more interesting and breaks up the day. Studies show that children have a higher level of retention from doing hands-on, interactive activities. When they have ownership and say in their learning they are more likely to invest time and energy into it and remember the information gathered for years to come.

Remember too that these activities can also be used for people of any age. No one is too old or too young to engage their senses and everyone enjoys having some fun while they learn. So doesn’t it make sense that we should try to incorporate as much experiential learning into the curriculum as possible?

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