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Experiential Learning

What is Experiential Learning?

James Neill
Last updated:
31 Jan 2005

One can learn from experience,
but one cannot be taught by it.

- Adam Phillips, On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored


Ricketts, M., & Willis, J. (2002). The power of experiential learning.

Saddington, A. (n.d.). What is Experiential Learning?

Smith, M. K. (2001). David A. Kolb on experiential learningthe encyclopedia of informal education,

Smith, M. K. (2003). Introduction to informal education. the encyclopedia of informal education,



What is experiential learning?

Experiential learning has come to mean two different types of learning:
1. learning by yourself
2. experiential education
[experiential learning through programs structured by others]
(Smith, 2003).

1. Experiential learning by yourself

Learning from experience by yourself might be called "nature's way of learning".  It is "education that occurs as a direct participation in the events of life" (Houle, 1980, p. 221, quoted in Smith, 2003).  It includes learning that comes about through reflection on everyday experiences.  Experiential learning by yourself is also known as  "informal education" and includes learning that is organised by learners themselves. 

Related terms: Auto-didacticism, Self-teaching.

2. Experiential education
(Experiential learning through programs & activities structured by others)

Principles of experiential learning are used to  design of experiential education programs.  Emphasis is placed on the nature of participants' subjective experiences. 

An experiential educator's role is to organize and facilitate direct experiences of phenomenon under the assumption that this will lead to genuine (meaningful and long-lasting) learning.  This often also requires preparatory and reflective exercises.

Experiential education is often contrasted with didactic education, in which the teacher's role is to "give" information/knowledge to student and to prescribe study/learning exercises which have "information/knowledge transmission" as the main goal.