Call us on:  08 7130 3970

Request Info
Two volunteers, one male and one female, at their Childcare Placement in Nepal teaching students.

Experiential learning: The secret to engaging your students!

Why you should include activity learning in your next lesson plan.

By Kait Baker-Smith | 14th June, 2024

Do you need help keeping lesson plans fresh, exciting and engaging?

If you want to know how to bring your lessons to life and involve your students in learning that lasts, read on!

What is experiential learning?

Simply put, Kolb’s experiential learning cycle outlines four stages of learning through experience.

Each stage requires the learner to use crucial skills; such as observation, listening, reflection, abstract thinking, hypothesising, and experimentation. Each stage progresses them to the next level of learning.

As students engage with the world around them, they gain hands-on experience, solve problems, ask questions, and test their theories. This allows learners to understand cause and effect, experimenting with variables and manipulating them to achieve a bigger goal.

Here’s an example of how we incorporate experiential learning theory into our Community Development Programs:

Concrete Experience

The student has an experience as an active and engaged participant. Students may engage in a new activity, or encounter a change in outcome from a familiar situation. 

Initial Activity: The volunteer (or group) engages with children in a classroom, helping with reading, playing, and daily routines.

Observation: They notice how children interact and respond to different activities.

Reflective Observation

The student reflects on the new experience by asking questions, participating in discussions, or comparing situations, processes, outcomes, and environments to notice similarities or inconsistencies.

Reflection: The volunteer reflects on which activities the children enjoyed and which were challenging.

Questions: “What activities engaged the children the most?” “What challenges did I face in keeping them focused?”

Abstract Conceptualisation

The student develops conclusions, opinions, and theories from their reflections.

Concept: The volunteer realises that visual aids and hands-on activities help to maintain children’s interest better.

Understanding: They understand that breaking down instructions helps children follow them more easily. 

Active Experimentation

The student puts their new knowledge into practice by testing their theories, experimenting with ideas, or retrying an activity as a more informed participant.

Implementation: The volunteer plans the next session with more visual aids, interactive games, and simpler instructions.

Testing: They observe the children’s reactions and engagement during the new session.

The cycle then starts again with Concrete Experience: 

Observation: The volunteer sees improvements in children’s participation and comprehension.

Reflection: They continue refining their approach based on ongoing observations and reflections.

How can experiential learning support development?

The experiential learning process is a powerful tool for supporting your student's development in many different ways:

Connecting theory with practice

To ensure students are secure in a subject, let them try to apply their knowledge to a real-world situation. Students with transferable knowledge understand the core concepts, not just memorised facts.

This means that when students come across similar problems in the future, they can recognise how to solve them; even if the situation is different from the first examples they were given.

Developing soft skills

As students actively engage in new experiences, they are subconsciously developing soft skills such as:

  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Time management
  • Creativity
  • Decision making
  • Resourcefulness
  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership

These skills are easier to develop when engaging with your environment, making activity learning a key resource for students' development.

Improving confidence

Not every learner works the same way, and while some of us can work well in a classroom environment, others prefer to get hands-on with their learning. 

One of the benefits of experiential learning is that while the classroom learners can practise applying their knowledge, the hands-on students can learn in a way that better suits their needs. 

Working this way will allow your students who may struggle with bookwork to thrive and grow in confidence. They’ll recognise that they’re capable of learning anything when put in the right environment. You’ll also give them a point of reference to reflect on when in the classroom, helping them better understand theoretical concepts.

Encouraging students to reflect

Whether it’s on work they have done or things they have observed; reflecting is key for development.

As active learners, students can pinpoint mistakes and know how to address them calmly without feeling overwhelmed or like they’ve failed. Part of reflecting is knowing there’s always room for improvement and errors are a valuable part of the learning process!

Reflective Journals

Our Reflective Journals have been carefully designed to encourage students to form their own opinions, think critically, and contemplate their experiences in destination at their own pace. 

They outline student's daily focus’ and ask them thought-provoking questions about things they may have seen, heard, or felt throughout the day.

These questions act as a catalyst for larger conversations between students and staff. By the end of their trip, students will have many meaningful debates and discussions, hear different viewpoints, and develop their own opinions.

Volunteers holding hands with Maasai women in Kenya. Everyone is wearing Maasai necklaces

Encourage global citizenship

As students explore the world and meet new people from communities different from their own, they better their understanding of global issues. This makes them more likely to understand, empathise with, and act on social, political, economic, and environmental concerns.

They will also develop first-hand experiences that will help them to become well-rounded and informed individuals, capable of forming their own opinions and filtering out false information based on stereotypes and sensationalised media.

In the long term, this will help us to create a world in which we bridge the gap between different cultures, traditions, languages, and lifestyles and show that despite our differences, we are all equals.

Global citizenship is key to empowering young people to make long-lasting, positive change and creating the next generation of leaders, conservationists, teachers, and more!

Preparing your students for the future

Experiential learning allows students to explore different career paths through volunteering, work experience, and learning about subjects in a hands-on way.

Whether spending a day learning about groundbreaking scientific research or observing a live excavation project, these environments connect interest subjects to the real world. Meanwhile, students will also be exploring potential careers!

How to implement experiential learning

Female volunteer laying bricks during their Building Project in Tanzania with Projects Abroad

Experiential learning activities are accessible both in and out of the school. Here are three ways to give your class the chance to explore, communicate, reflect, and experiment!

  • Workshops: Workshops are an opportunity to show your students how to complete a hands-on task, before giving them the time and space to try it for themselves. If you notice any mistakes or inefficient ways of working, prompt them to reflect with a question and facilitate their learning, rather than directly correcting the behaviour. This will help it stick longer!
  • Group work: As a class or in smaller groups, students will complete a task or solve a problem together! This will require many soft skills such as leadership, communication and adaptability. Group work tasks are great for tackling research-based projects, team-building activities, or community projects!
  • Learning Service: Volunteering is a great way to introduce your students to new ideas, skills, and problems both locally and overseas. As they learn about global issues, get to know different cultures and communities, and discover projects that they can support, students will develop empathy, morals, and ethical values. Learning service also provides an unfiltered glimpse into the real world.

Why not consider volunteering overseas for your next school group trip? Enhance your student’s learning experiences by helping them step outside their comfort zone and explore new places!

Want to integrate experiential learning into your school year?

Get in touch with our Group Trip Specialists and discover our school group trips overseas! Give your students a school trip packed full of valuable experiences they will never forget.

Share this article:

Don't forget to spread the word and let us know what you think on Facebook and Twitter!

Our accreditations