Experiential Learning: The Education Approach of the Future

3/15/22

Cram, memorize, recite, forget......aaaaaaaaand repeat. It is a familiar cycle of the traditional student learning experience when exams are the sole method of educational assessment. While bits and pieces of material may stick in your brain as a result, information is solely memorized, regurgitated, and never put into practice in a meaningful way.

Rote memorization—repetition of information so it sticks— has its place in learning, but does it have to always be the way? More importantly, does it give students the foundation of knowledge that sets them up for what is beyond K-12? 

For students who are high achievers with their eyes focused firmly on a future that requires standing out in the crowd, experiential learning—like the mastery-based model adopted by Laurel Springs School—is an important approach.

 Experiential learning: Going far beyond the cram-and-exam

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory suggests a powerful change in the way we educate and learn. The theory is anchored in students experiencing something—a problem, a task, an event—and then reflecting on the experience. Two more steps follow in the process: thinking in an effort to brainstorm conclusions and concepts of the experience’s meaning, and acting on the experience, or engaging in further experimentation or discussion to test out the understanding of what’s been learned.

In short, experiential learning can be equated to “learning by doing.” The cycle of experiences and periods of reflection, either individually or with others, helps students develop an understanding of their course material, insight into their own skills and interests, collaboration skills, and self-confidence.

Experiential learning in the future

The education field is fluid, as are the ways in which we learn. What was once deemed the best path gave way to new ideas and better methods. It is not unusual for parents and students to choose this moment in time—as we see technology advance faster than anyone can anticipate, allowing us to connect and learn with others around the globe—to seek innovative approaches to K–12 education.

For those with this perspective, the traditional classroom setting is stifling. It is largely the same now as it was 30 years ago: educator in front, students parked in neatly-rowed desks, answering when called upon, teaching to a test, and expecting the same outcome from diverse populations.

It's time to break free from the standard approach to primary and secondary education. Models incorporating experiential learning can help make that happen.

Sean Gallagher, founder and executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy and professor of educational policy, once spoke to the benefits on the experiential learning approach on individuality and self-development:

“In [experiential learning] programs, students work on real-world projects that enable them to apply their academic knowledge, while learning professional skills and technical skills. Being able to practice their skills in a supportive environment while engaging in reflection gives them the opportunity to increase their belief that they can accomplish professional and career related tasks and mindsets. In other words, students are able to develop their self-efficacy—which is important for all learners, but it has been identified as especially important for women and students of color in the STEM workforce pipeline.”

So is the experiential learning philosophy a lead actor in the future, or will it be sidelined by traditional learning? Since adults already use the experiential learning approach to develop their knowledge and understanding in the postsecondary education world and beyond, it only makes sense that this learning style will soon envelop the K–12 realm.

What will experiential learning do for K–12 students?

We already established experiential learning is a widely beneficial approach to education. But where, exactly, would we see the benefits of experiential learning in the classroom?

Learning is personalized to the student

The Laurel Springs learning approach is already highly tailored to each pupil—with them having control over their classes, schedules, goals. But imagine personalization going one step further. In being able to explore the experiences and skills they desire, students under an experiential learning approach get to develop their own formula for success.

Bringing theory and practice together

In the experiential learning environment, students retain more ideas, information, and concepts through their first-hand experiences. They view their mistakes as more valuable and more opportunistic than they do bad grades. In their periods of reflection, students are able to better develop the decision-making, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills that we educators know are so important.

How Laurel Springs meshes experiential and online learning

Online learning is a highly individualized experience. Experiential learning is a highly individualized experience. When you put the two together, you can be confident that your child is receiving an education as tailored to their skill set and goals as can be.

That is what we strive for in our rigorous academic program. Students complete their coursework at their own pace, under the personalized instruction of specially-trained teachers. The result is an experiential learning approach living under the framework of a mastery-based learning model. Virtual and in-person field trips, Make a Difference Mondays, travel learning, and clubs, offer our students enhanced experiential learning opportunities.

For distinguished learners, The Academy Symposium offers students the opportunity to hear from guest speakers who are experts in their fields. Students extend their understanding of our speakers’ presentations by completing learning activities in conjunction with optional live Symposium Soapbox meetings with like-minded peers and their teachers. Academy Symposium is designed to facilitate discussion, build collaboration skills, foster the ability to support ideas with facts, and practice civil dialogue techniques with individuals who may share opposing viewpoints.

Our pupils can passionately pursue their own interests and talents through the immersive and engaging experiences we offer. Students need to do more than memorize and recite dates, passages, equations, and statistics. Through our top-tier college prep and real-world opportunities, we ensure our students are being developed to succeed far beyond the classroom.

Ready to explore your student’s admission to Laurel Springs? We’re here to talk you through it. Get in touch to find out how your child can start learning—and experiencing—with us. Or register here for one of our Virtual Open Houses.