Experiential Learning: What is it and How Can it Be Used?

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Today we’re diving into what experiential learning is and the importance of incorporating it into your classroom and life.

Below you will find the full show notes and reference list for Episode 21 of The State of Education Podcast, presented by One-Room Education, along with links to the resources mentioned in this episode.

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Experiential Learning: What is it and How Can it Be Used?

Show Notes

Welcome back to The State of Education podcast, presented by One-Room Education.

Today we’re diving into what experiential learning is and the importance of incorporating it into your classroom and life.

  • What is Experiential Learning?
  • How is it used in education?
  • Is it really that important?
  • Ways to incorporate it into your life and classrooms.

Experiential learning isn’t just having an experience and reflecting on it. 

It’s the actual application of the things that you’re learning. So when I was in high school, there was a grant that you could apply for and my high school was awarded it and it’s called the Service Learning grant. And what it is, is you get a grant for five years and you have to perform a minimum number of community service projects every year. 

And then hopefully by the end of it, you would have started a school store to help fund your projects. And it’s supposed to make it so that you can eventually become a self-sustaining community outreach program, essentially. So it taught you not only the benefits of serving your community but everything that goes into that. 

So the budgeting, the funding, procuring the stuff that’s needed for that project, actually getting a team together, the physical performance of the project, reflections, how to keep track of everything. And then on top of that, since we had the school store, we also learned about entrepreneurship and budgeting, taxes, all of that stuff, how to run inventory, how to do basic customer service, all of that stuff we learned through a community service project in high school. So these are the things that are mainly being talked about whenever you talk about experiential learning.

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

That really makes stuff stick in kids’ heads, the actual application so that you can see why what you’re learning is actually important. I think that’s why, at least to me because I had such powerful experiences with experiential learning when I was a kid and it was so fundamental to the majority of my education. I think that’s why I really wanted to talk about it here because I also try to the best of my ability to use that in my private tutoring practice and my classroom work with my kids because it’s all about experiential learning. It’s about teaching kids how whatever they’re learning actually applies to them in life and just the importance of what they’re learning as opposed to just learning that a parallelogram is, whatever. I don’t even remember what a parallelogram is.

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

My favorite teachers weren’t the ones that we just sat there and took quizzes and stuff like that all the time. I remember and I was not into history growing up. 

I like it more now, but I did have some teachers that would make it fun. Like we would set up a courtroom and debate some of the historical events or things like that. Or I had a really great Spanish teacher in high school and we would go to shows where they have performances and go to a Mexican restaurant and just do more outside-the-box things that made everything make more sense, made it more real. And it was fun. It was exciting. Like I said, it’s like I can still remember some of those lessons because of the way that they taught them. 

Amanda, The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

I’ve talked to some really old school teachers and they have told me that it’s not their job to “entertain” the students. It’s their job to teach them, which I get.

I’m not a fricking monkey and clown show to entertain kids that are in my classroom. Absolutely. I agree with that. But that doesn’t mean that you have to sit there and drone on for 10 hours a day to 10-year-olds, right? 

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

One of the things that I really liked when I was reading about experiential learning is the emphasis on reflection because I feel like that’s really missing. I mean, let’s be honest, a lot of adults aren’t very good at self-reflection. And I think we just really aren’t taught how to do it or that it is important. And so, I feel like when I meet people who actually talk about that, I’m like, wow, that’s so great because it seems like it’s not something that is done. And honestly, it’s really one of those life skills that we should be doing all the time in our daily lives.

Amanda, The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

I agree with you that one of the big important components is the reflection, because we’re taught so much in school by design to just keep your head down, keep pushing forward. Just keep moving forward. It’ll all be okay. Just keep moving forward. And there are times where life is like that. Just keep your head down. Hope nobody notices you and just keep going, right?

But it’s also important to stop and look at what you did, why you did it, and then how you could change that the next time if you didn’t get the result that you wanted. It’s kind of the basic scientific method, but it’s never applied to anything outside of biology or chemistry anymore. And I think that’s really sad that, especially for me as a secondary teacher, all of the subjects are so overly compartmentalized.

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

Most people don’t learn by sitting in class. And I mean, there are some things that you’re going to do where you’ll remember stuff, but for the most part, that’s not how kids learn. And what really frustrates me as an educator, and I don’t really call myself a teacher anymore, because teaching is a field. It’s a profession. Education, educating is a calling. 

And I’ve noticed that a lot of people are starting to differentiate themselves also, because an educator can be a homeschool mom, an educator can be a PhD professor, an educator can be the groundskeeper that has kids from service learning helping them weed the garden. And talking about why he does or doesn’t use pesticides. You’ll learn more from that gardener than you will sitting in the classroom. That’s an educator.

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

We know that kids learn through hands-on, through play, through experiences. That’s how every person works. But we treat the “education” system like it’s something completely different from child development. 

Like somehow the modern education system is going to be able to override the biological natural development of kids. And I’m not sure at what point that sort of control over biology thought process took hold in education. 

But I think that it’s a lot of the reason why you’re seeing such bad problems in the education system as a whole, not just in the United States, but anywhere really that has adopted the Western model of education.

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

I also understand the struggle that they have caring about the kids and especially in the lower grade levels. Those become kind of your kids while they’re in your room, right? You are the primary caretaker of them while they’re in your room. Anything that happens to them is legally your liability. 

And you get attached to the kids and you want the best for them. And this applies to anything that we talk about on this podcast. Teachers that genuinely care about their students aren’t necessarily the ones that we’re talking about. We’re talking about the ones that look for validation for their own issues in their students. 

We all know who I’m talking about. We’re talking about the ones that don’t really care if their students get the concept as long as they look good when it comes time for testing and evaluation season, right? Because they want to keep their pension and their pay. And people hate to think that there are teachers out there like that because we hold teachers just like we do with nurses and police officers and doctors. We hold all of these public servants up as if we have higher moral character. 

But really we’re all just people trying to do what’s best for us and the people around us. And a lot of times the classroom teacher wants to do things that they know is best for their kids, their students. And they want to take them out and give them experiences in life and give them these experiential learning experiences. But they’re held back so much by administration who often have never spent a day in a classroom.

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

I think there’s lots of different ways and it doesn’t have to be as elaborate as a big road trip. You know, things in your community, even just going to the library. I mean, there’s a lot of things. Like we went to the library all the time, and it’s more than just reading books, there’s different things, there’s classes, there’s programs, even just learning how to use a library system. And I mean, there’s so many things that are free in your community that you can get involved in that I think, it might take a little bit of research upfront, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate, but there’s a lot of ways that you can incorporate them. 

And when kids are young, I know it’s not always fun, but taking your kids with you to grocery stores or things like that, just daily tasks, honestly, is a great way to start, I think, because that includes so many skills across all areas. As students get older, you might have to get more creative in those kinds of things, but I think there’s definitely options. And honestly, whether or not the school is doing some of these things, you should still do these things with your kids at home. 

Amanda, The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

You say, okay, we’re getting bananas. Ooh, do we want green bananas or yellow bananas? Which ones are sweet? 

And this one’s not so much. It might be a little crunchy. Look at how green that is. Okay. What’s the difference? 

Why? And just the general thought process of something ripening is all something that can be done and the chemistry behind it, whenever they get a little bit older, all of that stuff is done by picking bananas. 

Right. And, okay, well, we need milk. Well, do we want organic milk or do we want regular milk? Well, because the organic milk only comes in a half-gallon and it costs this much and the regular milk comes in half-gallons or gallons and each one costs this much. This is how much it’ll be per ounce. And you end up getting this huge math lesson and conversions between gallons and quarts and pints and ounces and all of this stuff. Also incorporated with the money and budgeting and everything.

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

So I’m a speech therapist. These are all the kinds of things that I recommend when parents ask “What can I be doing at home to promote language vocabulary?” things like that. And it’s the same kind of thing. So again, it’s across all areas. Because, you go shopping, you’re categorizing the types of food and when you get home, you have to ask, “Where does each of them go?” Okay, this has to stay cold. This goes in the pantry. 

And then like you said, cooking and the procedural steps first, this, then this, then this. And so many of those and then just the vocabulary of basic life things that kids need to be exposed to. So that by the time they get to school, they have that and then they don’t need me as much because they’ve been exposed to all these things. That basic vocabulary really does fall on the parents, because, as we know, a lot of schools aren’t going to be doing these kinds of things, whether we want them to or not. So we can’t expect our kids to get all of this language and vocabulary and exposure at school. So it’s really important to, just include your kids in all of these activities.

Amanda, The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

Things as simple as going to the grocery store actually get taught to these special ed kids. So they go on field trips to the grocery store. They make grocery lists. They go through the sale ads and they have a budget that’s given to them by the school district to take out these poor “special” ed kids.

They go out into the community, get their stuff. They come back. They learn how to make a recipe. All the stuff that you were just talking about. But that’s only available to special ed kids. At that point, I call it the point of no return. Like the school, the school knows that these kids just aren’t gonna make it academically. They’re not gonna go to college. So we have to make sure they know something.

Which really pisses me off. Like really, really, really makes me mad because that shows two things. One, that the primary responsibility of public schools currently is to send kids to college, not out into the real world to succeed, and two, that they know for damn sure that experiential learning is that important if they have a budget to send out the poor little special ed kids. They know that they have to send out these poor little special ed kids to experience these things, to get hands-on because that’s the way that people learn.  

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

So parents, a lot of times will say, okay, well, school is preparing my kid for life. 

They’re giving them the basic information they need to be successful in life. But the school is only looking to pass the tests. And honestly, that’s pretty much all of what school is doing right now. The individual teachers are trying. I wholeheartedly believe that the teachers themselves are trying. But they’re training you, someone put it this way, they’re training you students to be good students. 

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

So this is what used to happen when the education system in the United States and Western Europe was set up. It was set up with the input of employers. 

So what are you looking for in a good employee? And that’s how the education system got set up. That’s why you go to school for seven to eight hours.

You go, you sit there, you listen, you take notes, you’re attentive, you do what the teacher says, you don’t ask questions. You have a specific amount of time for lunch every day. You have very specific roles that you have to play because that’s what makes a good employee, according to these captains of industry back in the day. And they will still say, if you ask the federal department of education, they will say, if you ask them about their curriculum recommendations and stuff, they’ll say, oh, well, we talked to the leaders in these industries. And this is what they’re looking for in employees. 

Well that’s cool. That’s what they’re looking for in employees right now. But these kids have another 13 years of school. 

So what are they going to be looking for in 13 years? So we’re producing employees that are consistently behind what the companies are actually looking for. And we’re producing employees. We’re not producing employers. And anybody that shows a proficiency toward leadership gets pulled out and put into special leadership programs, into AP programs, into whatever. But what isn’t being taught is if somebody just wants to live a normal life. 

Okay. I want to be able to be a homeowner. I want to be able to have a family and provide for them without having to have a two-income household. 

I want to be able to provide for my family without having to make $300,000 a year because we’re trying to keep up with the Kardashians. Because that’s what’s promoted as “successful” nowadays.

Katie J., The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

Don’t assume that the school is providing all these experiences in their education system. So try to incorporate whenever you can some of the things that we talked about and just again, it doesn’t have to be crazy. Start small, just in your normal thing, think about, like, what do I do every day that my adult child is going to be able to do and just include them in that and talk about it. Like you said, who cares if you look like a crazy person? You gotta talk about what you’re doing so they know. And yeah, I mean, it doesn’t have to take a ton of extra time unless you want it to and you want to plan something more elaborate.

But I would say start small so it’s not overwhelming. And yeah, just think of skills that they’re gonna need when they’re not in school. Because I feel like, if you think about it, school is like I said, it’s school that makes you a good student so you can do well in school. But that’s not the ultimate life goal, right? Most of us are not gonna be in school forever.

And sometimes I’ll try to talk to parents about this too. Like, try to start thinking of that long-term mindset of, “What do I want my child to look like in 10 years? in 20 years? What do I want their life to look like?”

And start, you know, just setting small goals of what things you can do to work towards that. Because one day they’re not gonna be in school and so it’s not gonna be the classroom setting. So incorporating as many things outside of that because you’re already getting that in school. Anything outside of that that you can is gonna be super beneficial for them in the future.

Amanda, The State of Education Podcast, 6/13/23.

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