Unlocking the power of experiential learning: a quick start guide

Discover the world of experiential learning with our quick guide. Gain insights into its importance and applications in higher education and beyond.
September 29, 2023
7 min
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The rise of AI and its imposition on the ever-changing job market has made today's learners not just seeking knowledge, but authentic experiences to help them seamlessly transition from graduation caps to employment desks. 

Meanwhile, educators are working to blend traditional curricula with opportunities and experiences that reflect the demands of today's professions. Bridging this gap isn't always straightforward.

But what if there was a more dynamic approach to learning? One that engages, resonates, and ensures that learners not only understand but can also effectively apply what they’ve learned in real-world situations. 

Welcome to the realm of experiential learning. In this article, we'll dive deep into the fundamentals of this transformative approach to learning, offering insights and guiding you to resources that delve even deeper. 


What is experiential learning?

Experiential learning, at its core, refers to learning that is based on students being directly involved in a learning experience in addition to absorbing content in the form of lectures, memorization, etc. 

In essence, it's a "learn by doing" or "hands-on" approach where the learner is at the center of the experience, actively participating in projects and reflecting on the outcomes. The process engages multiple learning styles by giving students the opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge in practical, authentic, real-world scenarios and then reflect on their experiences to solidify and deepen their understanding.

Such a holistic approach offers numerous advantages over traditional learning methodologies, including:

  • Direct application of theoretical concepts to real-world situations enhances comprehension and practical understanding.
  • Through hands-on activities, engagement in the learning process spikes and becomes more memorable for students.
  • Beyond academic enrichment, learners actively develop pivotal soft skills, such as collaboration, problem-solving, and adaptability.
  • By confronting tasks and challenges, learners experience meaningful personal growth, fostering enhanced self-awareness and a stronger sense of responsibility.
  • Critical thinking abilities are honed as learners actively navigate and analyze real-world scenarios.
  • The experiential approach ensures immediate feedback, prompting students to actively reflect and adjust their understanding.
  • Encountering diverse challenges actively equips learners with adaptability, preparing them for the uncertainties of the real world.
  • Increased retention is a hallmark of experiential learning; students remember more because they actively participate and immerse themselves in the content.

For a deeper dive into the benefits of experiential learning for educators, students, and employers, we suggest checking out this post.

Key components of experiential learning

Modern experiential learning owes much of its foundation to Kolb's experiential learning theory. David Kolb, an American educational theorist, envisioned learning not as isolated moments of intake but as a fluid journey where one experience cascades into the next, forging deeper understanding. 

He identified a cyclical process that learners navigate, transforming hands-on experiences into genuine insights. The four key stages of experiential learning, as proposed by Kolb, are:

  • Concrete Experience (CE): This is the initial stage where learners encounter new experiences or reinterpret existing experiences. It's the phase of "doing" – a direct involvement in the experience itself.
  • Reflective Observation (RO): Following the experience, learners reflect upon what they just did. They observe from various angles, analyzing the experience and their feelings toward it.
  • Abstract Conceptualization (AC): Based on their reflections, learners begin to form theories, concepts, or ideas about what they experienced. It's the process of making sense or drawing conclusions from the gathered observations.
  • Active Experimentation (AE): In this stage, learners apply what they've learned, testing their new knowledge in new situations, essentially "trying out" what they've concluded from their reflections.

To delve deeper into each of these stages and their significance in the experiential learning cycle, you are encouraged to explore this detailed post.

Applications of experiential learning in higher education

Different educational settings have used this methodology to cultivate competencies that prepare students for real-world challenges. Here are just a few examples of how this approach is used in different settings.

Higher education

Experiential learning takes on a more specialized role in higher education. Professors and instructors recognize the importance of providing students with real-world experience along with academic pursuits, so they try to incorporate this method into the curriculum with things like:

  • Work-based learning: This approach often integrates academic learning with its direct application in professional settings. For instance, a computer science student might work on actual coding or web design projects for a company, merging their academic curriculum with real-world skill-building tasks and challenges.
  • Internships: Internships serve as a bridge between the academic and professional worlds. Business students might intern at financial firms to gain insights into market dynamics, while journalism students could join media houses to understand the intricacies of news reporting and editing.
  • Practicums: Common in fields like education, social work, and healthcare, practicums are supervised practical experiences. For example, student-teachers, under the guidance of experienced educators, manage and instruct classes, applying their academic learnings directly in the classroom.
  • Co-ops: Cooperative education programs, often referred to as "co-ops", blend classroom-based education with practical work experience. Unlike internships, co-ops are typically longer and are often integrated into the student's academic curriculum, allowing students to rotate between classroom studies and full-time employment in their field of study.

Adult education

For adult learners, the emphasis often shifts towards immediate applicability and relevance to job search and placement. Experiential learning in this context is less about introducing concepts and more about enhancing or updating existing skills for personal or professional growth. They do this through:

  • Skill development programs: Tailored workshops or courses, like a seminar on the nuances of digital marketing or emerging IT tools, provide adults with skills they can promptly integrate into their careers or daily lives.
  • Community-based projects: Whether it's engaging in energy conservation campaigns or organizing educational workshops for the community, these projects resonate with the broader idea of learning through contribution.
  • Simulations and role-playing: These immersive exercises are especially helpful in leadership training and language classes, preparing participants for navigating complex situations or conversing fluently in new languages.
  • Workforce development: This approach is aimed at strengthening the skills, competencies, and abilities of the workforce. It often involves collaboration between employers, educational institutions, and learners to align training with industry needs, thereby promoting better job opportunities and career advancements.
  • Consortia models: These collaborative initiatives involve multiple institutions or organizations partnering together to address common educational goals or challenges. 

Challenges in implementing experiential learning in higher education

Despite its benefits, integrating experiential learning into higher education is not without its challenges. 

One of the most prominent obstacles lies in establishing and managing collaborations with external organizations and industry partners. These partnerships form the backbone of experiential learning and are essential for bridging the academic-industry gap and preparing learners with the right skills.

Educational institutions keen to offer authentic learning experiences often find themselves in a competitive race to forge ties with businesses, non-profits, and other entities.

On top of that, modern students want their courses to be dynamic, reflecting the current demands of employers. And that can be hard to do when changes to the curriculum take time to implement. 

So faculty members are trying to find ways to integrate relevant experiential opportunities while ensuring that their course content aligns with industry expectations.

They can be difficult to do without the right infrastructure and resources in place. Whether it's state-of-the-art labs, advanced training, or logistical support for work-based learning activities, there's a significant commitment required to successfully implement experiential learning.

But those challenges are just part of the puzzle. As experiential learning gains traction, there's a rising concern about its equity and accessibility. Every student deserves a shot at these transformative experiences, irrespective of their background. It's a challenge that institutions are working to overcome. 

With the right amount of strategic foresight, adaptability, and commitment, institutions can overcome these hurdles, unlocking a holistic and enriched learning experience for their students.

The role of technology in experiential learning

A key component of today's rapidly evolving educational landscape is technology, which provides institutions with the opportunity to connect traditional learning methods with immersive, real-world experiences. 

Digital platforms, particularly those like Riipen, have the capability to not only facilitate but significantly enhance the scope and quality of experiential learning, helping you:

  • Improve educational and employment outcomes by allowing learners to directly apply their classroom learning through authentic work-based projects from employers and industry partners, ensuring a deeper understanding of their chosen field.
  • Enhance efficiency in resource utilization by connecting with industry partners in a few clicks.
  • Boosted engagement and retention by melding career readiness opportunities into the curriculum.

By creating a platform that bridges educators, students, and industry partners, Riipen ensures that learners can gain genuine insights into their field of study and are better prepared for the professional world. 

Here's how we do it:

  • Tailored matches: Educators are connected with organizations that align with their experiential learning goals through the platform's recommendation engine.
  • Collaboration and management: With tools such as team creation, project management, in-app chats, and video conferencing, the platform makes learning rich and interactive. Additionally, its notification system keeps students engaged and on track.
  • The Riipen portfolio: All feedback from every project becomes a part of the student's portfolio, serving as tangible proof of their skills and experiences.
  • Rapid onboarding: Riipen prioritizes the user experience. From virtual walkthroughs to 1-on-1 consultations and live help center support, the onboarding process is streamlined and efficient.
  • Ready-to-use templates: Riipen boasts a wide array of pre-built templates, simplifying project-based learning while ensuring relevance to industry demands.

Riipen is the world's leading? experiential learning marketplace. With over 31,000 businesses and nonprofits from around the world, it provides educators with a dynamic environment to collaborate with the right partners.


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Key takeaways

  • Experiential learning focuses on a "learn by doing" approach, placing the learner at the heart of the experience.
  • Integrating experiential learning in education faces challenges like establishing external collaborations and ensuring course relevance.
  • Digital platforms, especially Riipen, help in bridging educators, students, and industry partners.

For more information or to schedule a demo

For more information or to schedule a demo, please reach out to a member of our team.

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