Experiential education can involve a variety of different methods and strategies that engages learners in direct experience with focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, skills, and clarify values. These strategies can be thought of as part of a wheel, with each spoke contributing to the goals of experiential education.
Below are examples of a variety of strategies that may be employed to engage students in experiential learning. This list is by no means comprehensive!
Experiential Education Strategies
A trip by students to gain firsthand knowledge outside of the classroom.
Example: Religion classes tour houses of worship of different faith traditions, with tours conducted by practitioners of those traditions. These visits are followed by in-class discussion and a comparative reflection paper that prompts students to reflect on the visit as well the connection between visit themes and learnings and their own experience.
Public Action Projects:
Sustained experiences that integrate meaningful public engagement that is mutually beneficial to students and the community. Instruction and reflection in a community context enriches course content, teaches civic responsibility, builds community capacity and relationships, and often connects to university-wide community engagement initiatives. Examples include service-learning, Public Achievement, or collaborating with a community group to organize around an issue or event.
Example: Students in the Special Education department use the Public Achievement model to mentor middle school students in designing and implementing a project to improve their school and community throughout the course of a nine month school year.
Internships & Field Placements:
A form of experiential education that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skill development in a work setting under the guidance of a professional mentor.
Example: Clinical psychology students engage in internships in mental health settings where they are collaboratively supervised by a faculty member and professional in the field.
Natural Science Course Labs:
Laboratories supplement the main course by providing students the opportunity to test, in an applied context, the concepts they’re mastering intellectually in class, bringing their academic discipline into conversation with a relevant presenting problem. Students actively participate by conducting experiments, perhaps collecting their data in the field, analyzing and interpreting their data, and critically reflecting how their data fits in with existing scientific or public knowledge and public problems. Each experiment or project typically requires students to review their own contributions to the experience and reflect upon the quality of those contributions with the goal of continuous improvement and potential contribution to the scientific literature.
Example: First-year biology students directly explore the connection between the way biological organisms “look” and their DNA by generating a testable hypothesis focused on the evolutionary relatedness of different plants on the Augsburg University campus and surrounding area based on how the plants look.Students analyze their plants’ DNA sequences for evolutionary relatedness in a national DNA database and compare their samples to related plants worldwide to determine the true evolutionary relatedness of their plants. Students then present written and oral reports that communicate their findings in the context of what is currently understood in the field and include reflection on how their personal observations correspond with scientific evaluation of organism relatedness.
Example: Students in a physics lab study the properties of and techniques for handling a nanoparticle substance. Six weeks into the lab, students must ask their own original scientific questions about the substance in conversation with a global expert and then conduct an original experiment testing their hypothesis that could contribute to the field of research.
Undergraduate Research Experience:
Students engage in well-crafted and directed research experiences under the supervision of a faculty member. Research must include original student work, considerable interaction with a faculty advisor or other academic professional, and presentation of research results in a public forum. Research may happen through the Office of Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity (URGO), a course, or through collaboration with an off-campus professional.
Example: A student participates in a summer URGO research project investigating a topic alongside a faculty person. At the end of the summer, they present their findings in a public forum, and may take their research to a regional or national conference.
Community-Based Participatory Research (Action Research):
Research that is conducted as a partnership between traditionally trained “experts” and members of the community for the benefit of both.
Example: Advanced calculus students visited a coffee cooperative in Nicaragua, conducted research, and developed a project with the farmers to chart the carbon footprint of coffee production in order to create an irrigation system for the cooperative.
Domestic and International Immersion Experiences:
Experiences that intentionally engage students in significant ways and for an extended time period in environments that are different from their own in terms of culture, social class, religion, etc. These experiences serve educational purposes, integrating experience with theory.
Example: Students on Augsburg’s River Semester paddle down the Mississippi River, building intentional community while engaging in course work and research on topics such as water pollution, agriculture in the watershed, political organizing around environmental issues, race relations and social justice, and riverfront revitalization.
Example: CGEE semester and short term intensive programs in Mexico, Central America, and Southern Africa create opportunities for learning from communities and groups working for social change.
Depth of Engagement
The wheel of experiential education can be viewed in a three-dimensional manner with a depth aspect to it which notes the level of engagement. This framework is adapted from Keith Morton’s (1995, 2004) research related to service-learning. He frames service-learning in three distinct paradigms: charity (providing direct service to another person), project (implementing or supporting community service organizations), and social change (work towards transforming society). He posits that they are not on a continuum, but rather that each has their strengths and limitations. He further contends that individual engagement in each paradigm can have differing levels of integrity, which he describes as “thin,” with little or no integrity, diminishing the dignity of persons involved, to “thick,” reflecting deep integrity and affirming the dignity of all participants. He believes that service, whether charity, project, or process, “when done with enough integrity and courage can be transformational” (Morton, 2004, p. 47). Experiential education, more broadly, can be framed in an analogous way.
Below are the different scales for which the “thickness” or “thinness” of an experiential education activity can be determined.
|University-Community Relationship||Placement||Reciprocal partnership|
|Connection with other initiatives||Isolated||Integrated|
|Connection to course content||Unconnected||Content-rich|
|Relationship to learning outcomes||Minimal||Clear and connected|
|Reflection||Unstructured||Facilitated, multimodal, communal|
|Participant role||Audience||Teacher and learner|
This framework mirrors Minnesota Campus Compact’s Social Change Wheel 1997
Morton, K. (2004). Making meaning: Reflections on community, service, and learning. In R. Devine, J. A. Favazza, & F. M. McLain (Eds.), From Cloister to Commons: Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Religious Studies, (pp. 41-53). Washington, DC: AAHE.
Morton, K. (1995). “The irony of service: Charity, project, and social change in service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 2, 19-32.