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Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning (Kolb, 1984) is a course design framework that:

  • Is a holistic approach which emphasizes the critical role of experience
  • Promotes learning through experience and discovery (an on-going process)
    • Learning occurs from experience (doing)
  • A cyclical process of creating knowledge (personal and social)
    • Requires resolution for learning to occur via adaptation
    • Students experience, reflect, generalize, and test (Cowan 1998)
  • "Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience," (Kolb, 1984, p.38)
      • "..a process in which experience is reflected upon and then translated into concepts which in turn become guidelines for new experiences," (Saddington, 1992, p 44)

Design Framework

Experiential Learning Framework is designed in an on-going cyclical process. Each cycle consists of:

Concrete Experience

  • Purposeful and active to provide a common experience on which to build learning
  • Examples include: readings, examples/demonstrations, brief research projects, fieldwork, laboratories, basic experiments, film clips, problems/scenarios, observations, simulations, games, small group discussions, photographs/images, debates, practical exercises, creative exercises, etc.

Reflective Observation

  • Using questioning and/or group discussions
  • Examples include: blogs, diaries, peer analysis and feedback, critiques, short reports, event summaries, journaling, brainstorming, rhetorical questioning

Abstract Conceptualization

  • Interpreting events and identifying key relationships
  • Comparisons between the original experience and what has been learned since
  • Examples include: projects, analogies, model creation/construction, theory propositions, concept mapping, summaries, sequencing facts/events, framing and explaining events

Active Experimentation

  • Implementing what they have learned
  • Planning suggests anticipated outcomes (predictions)
  • Refinement and revision within specific context(s)
  • Examples include: case studies, role play, authentic games, problem solving, laboratories, fieldwork, simulations, authentic applications

Experiential Learning


Key Design Principles

  • Identifying meaningful concrete experiences
      • This may be different for EACH student (although similar in topic/focus) depending on development
      • Stimulates further inquiry, thought, and analysis
      • Identify how skills, concepts, and knowledge would be applied
  • Reflection questions need to be thoughtfully constructed to lead to thoughtfully constructed concepts
      • Questions should be:
          • Broad (open ended, variety of responses and perspectives, seeks possibilities)
          • Specific (examples, alternatives, linked to experience, if-then, seek justification and clarification)
          • Engage all students
          • Seek to determine changes in comprehension
          • Both individual and group oriented
              • Consider alternatives to verbal interactions (written, diagramed, anonymous, electronic formats, etc.)
  • Conceptualization provides guidelines and frameworks for future experimentation
      • Assimilation and synthesis of theories, facts, perspectives, etc.
      • Create new perspectives, possibilities, and what ifs
  • Experimentation further refines conceptualization and enables more accurate prediction of future outcomes
      • Testing of the newly developed guidelines and frameworks
      • Refinement and adaptation of these

Course Design Process

  • Identify the threshold concepts skills, knowledge for the course.
  • Determine assessment strategies
  • Review the Experiential Learning cycle
  • Determine readings, activities, and experiences that will help students attain threshold concepts, skills, and knowledge

Design Resources


  • Cowan, J. 1998. On becoming an innovative university teacher: Reflection in action. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University
  • Kolb, D. A., Rubin I. M., & McIntyre, J. (1971). Organizational psychology: An experiential approach. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall
  • Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
  • Saddington, J. A. (1992). Learner experience: A rich resource for learning. In J. Mulligan and C. Griffin (Eds.), Empowerment through experiential learning: Explorations of good practice, (pp.37-49). London, UK: Kogan Page
May 26, 2022