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Research in boys’ education has established the transformative power of taking learning beyond the classroom and into real world settings. Experiential education – learning by doing – focuses the learning environment firmly on the student, allowing them to take ownership of their learning and steer their own course. The growing emphasis on experiential learning in schools reflects a shift in the way today’s students learn, develop new skills and new ways of thinking.

In a previous blog, we explain what experiential education is and briefly cover the four stages of experiential learning. Educators are tasked with carefully selecting learning experiences that support each of the key stages that make an experience experiential. A school that is serious about putting experiential learning into practice will plan for all four stages. Here’s a breakdown of each stage and what it might look like in practice.

1. Concrete experience – the ‘feeling’ stage

The first stage of experiential learning is concrete experience. This is when the person first connects with the material through experience. Also known as the ‘feeling’ stage, it begins with a student engaging in a hands-on learning activity for the first time. Here they are introduced to new information and an experience that is new to the learner. The setting for this activity is unrestricted and could take place inside or outside classroom, on or off campus. These can range from integrated project-based learning through STEAM, to an entrepreneurial internship, or an outdoor education experience in a rural or wilderness setting.

2. Reflective observation – the ‘watching’ stage

This stage occurs when a student looks for meaning and understanding of the material presented. Once the activity has taken place, the learning continues as the student thoughtfully reflects on the experience. This is the ‘watching’ stage of learning and may take place individually or as a group through discussion or activities. It may be guided by the teacher but is primarily if not solely, student driven. This crucial step allows students to process information and take into consideration the role that emotion and feelings can play in the learning experience.

3. Abstract conceptualisation – the ‘thinking’ stage

This is when the real learning happens. Following the period of reflection, this is when a student conceptualises the information that they experienced and discussed. The student then begins to think about the hands-on experience in a more personalised, theoretical way. This ‘thinking’ phase of learning is where students start to apply analytic skills to conceptualise the experience – posing questions and constructing meaning. This phase prepares them for future learning experiences, inside or outside the classroom. 

4. Active experimentation – the ‘doing’ stage

Real-life experience applied! This is the ‘doing’ phase of learning where the development of abstract thinking helps students apply the lessons learned in real life situations. Students will experiment, problem-solve and make decisions based on their personal theories and experience. An understanding of their own interpersonal skills also comes into play across the broader aspects of life.

Educational theorist David A Kolb defines learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”. To truly be successful in the 21st century, we need children to be able to adapt quickly to different situations and apply their knowledge and skills across all areas of life. Experiential learning is an important approach in helping them to do that.

Download this brochure to learn how Scots takes learning outside of the classroom at our Glengarry campus.

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