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Experiential Learning

What is Experience?

James Neill
Last updated:
11 Dec 2004

What is experience?

Experience refers to the nature of the events someone or something has undergone.  Experience is what is happening to us all the time - as we long we exist

Experience, used in the present tense, refers to the subjective nature of one's current existence.  Humans have a myriad of expressions, behaviors, language, emotions, etc. that characterize and convey our moment-to-moment experiences.

Experience, used in the past tense, refers to the accumulated product (or residue) of past experiences e.g., after many hours of training and practice building furniture out of wood, we now consider him to be an experienced wood craftsman.

These two emphases of the word experience (present and past) emerge from a critical connection and philosophical issue:

To what extent do one's past experiences influence one's current and future experience?

The idea that past experiences influence future experiences was termed continuity by John Dewey.  All experiences, argued Dewey, impact on one's future, for better or worse.  Basically, cumulative experience either shuts one down or opens up one's access to possible future experiences.

Recommended reading:

Quotes about experience

Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.
- Aldous Huxley, Texts & Pretexts: Introduction

We go through life expecting to be tasted while we are being swallowed.
- Elizabeth Bebesco, Haven: 'Aphorisms'

If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality.  If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself.
- Mao Zedong, On Practice, July, 1937

Life should serve up its experiences in a series of courses.
- William Golding, Close Quarters, 17

Experience isn't interesting till it begins to repeat itself - in fact, till it does that, it hardly is experience.
- Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart, Pt 1, Ch 1

To most men, experience is like the stern light of a ship, which illumines only the track it has passed.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk, p. 434

Not all need experience, but all need the fruit of experience.
- Bishop Mandell Creighton, Life and Letters, Vol. 2

There are two things that experiences teach us: the first is that we should correct heavily; the second, that is should not be too heavily.
- Eugene Delacroix, Journal,8 March, 1860

To a great experience one thing is essential, an experiencing nature.
- Walter Bagehot, Estimates of Some Englishmen and Scotsmen: 'Shakespeare - the Individual'

Experience only serves us to give others useless advice.
- Comtesse Diana, Maxims of Life, p. 75

Experience dulls the edge of all our dogmas.
- Gilbert Murray (attrib.)