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The importance of learning spaces in experiential education

Field work, role playing exercises and outdoor education activities are typical experiential learning activities. These are obvious examples of ‘learning by doing’, the simple definition of experiential education, which often takes place outside the traditional classroom setting.

However, for students to fully immerse themselves in the experiential experience, teachers need to create objective learning spaces that allow students to subjectively engage in feeling, reflecting, thinking and acting – the four stages of experiential learning.

Learning spaces need to be inviting, welcoming and safe, yet empowering and challenging. Here are three kinds of learnings spaces that matter in experiential learning:

Physical learning spaces

This is the obvious one, but crucial to active learning in today’s education environment. Access to learning spaces that are innovative, that allow for collaborative and interactive learning and offer access to real-world technology are essential in developing critical thinking skills and helping prepare students for life beyond school. Labs and lecture settings, access to simulation technology and industry-standard software allow students to analyse, share, discuss and reflect with ease. The physical design and layout of our classrooms, lighting, sound and comfort also contribute to effective learning.

Hospitable learning spaces

This kind of learning space is created through developing a student’s positive learning identity in a subject. In this space, the educator needs to recognise students’ fears and hopes, and creating a space that is welcoming, respectful, genuine and empowering for the student. Focus must be given to students’ learning processes and their reflections on experiences. This helps students feel safer, more confident and more invested in taking charge of their learning.

Conversational learning spaces

The exchange of speaking and listening is universal to learning. Creating spaces that encourage good conversations allows students to move from the reflection stage, to conceptualisation and action. The teacher’s role is important here as they need to ensure they are not at the centre of the class, they treat students as equals and they allow students to express ideas and opinions freely. The physical space – as well as the emotional space and allowing adequate time for reflection – are also important here.

A number of aspects come together to create experiential learning spaces. Not only the physical dimension (classrooms, architecture and environment), but also the cultural (values, norms and history and language), psychological (learning style, learning skills and values), social (peers, teachers and community members) and institutional (policy, organisation goals, traditions) aspects.

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