Grounded in the work of John Dewey and Jean Piaget, experiential learning recognizes that learning is an active process.
Traditional schooling views the teacher and text as experts and the learner as a passive recipient of that expertise. By contrast, experiential learning promotes involvement in the real world and defines the teacher's role as a facilitator of learning. The process of learning takes precedence over the behavioral outcomes, and is based on the premise that learning is a continuous process, with experience at its foundation.
When students participate in experiential learning, they frequently follow what is known as "the learning cycle." This is a process, based on constructivist theory, which starts with unstructured exploration, followed by what developmental theorists call concept formation and concept application.
For example, when studying decomposition using a worm bin, students start by examining a scoop of the bin's contents. After having time to explore, they identify questions to pursue (concept formation). They design and carry out further investigations and report their findings to the class (concept application). The cycle is repeated as students test ideas and refine or change their assumptions and understandings.
Experiential learning is vital to schooling for sustainability. Only through direct contact with the natural world will students develop an in-depth understanding of fundamental ecological principles. By working with others to solve real-world problems, they also develop skills at the heart of sustainable living.
The Center for Ecoliteracy promotes experiential learning through our emphasis on school gardens, food and cooking, civic engagement, and the schoolyard as a learning laboratory.