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Experiential Education in Practice

The philosophy of “experiential education” is perhaps best explained by an example.   Let’s say that a business class is going to study mission statements.  One option would be for the professor to assign reading and provide a lecture on mission statements for the students, and then the students would take a test showing that they learned the key content.  Another option would be for the professor to set student responsibility for background information and facilitate direct experiences to work with the material.   We believe that this second option helps students really understand the material and use the content, which makes for more meaningful, exciting and memorable learning.

Read on for a description of the process!

  • Outcomes

The professor develops student goals or outcomes and will create expectations for the class to set the group up for success in accomplishing the goals.  Students know the purpose for what they are doing of and why it is important.  Here are the goals for a class on mission statements.

    1. Students can identify the qualities and components of an effective mission statement.
    2. Students can review corporate mission statements and evaluate their effectiveness and provide constructive feedback.
    3. Students can write a mission statement for an organization.
  • Expectations

Students will read a background chapter and articles on mission statements and have a few critical questions to answer in order to get their minds engaged in the content.  Students bring their work and questions to class and are ready to discuss their learning from the reading. The class is organized and expectations are set in a manner that students can be productive during group work and challenge one another in the learning process.

  • Experience

The professor structures a discussion on the key points on effective mission statements in the reading.  The professor can assess how well the students understand the core content by reviewing individual answers and by the quality of the discussion.   Students are encouraged to ask questions and challenge assumptions to aid in their understanding of the fundamentals. The students are involved in an activity to review and evaluate mission statements.  First, the group will evaluate examples of well written mission statements and identify the key components.  Next, the group will evaluate mission statements that could use improvements, and the group will identify positive aspects of each mission and areas for improvement.  In small teams, the group works to revise a mission statement and share their work with the group.

  • Reflection

The professor will process the experience along the way asking questions that helps the students reflect.  For example, the professor may ask questions like:  What do you notice about this set of mission statements? What did you think or feel about the organizations when you read them?  Does this help you clearly understand the organization?

  • Conceptualize

As a result of the reflections, the group will develop key concepts and points of learning.  For example, the class may determine that a mission statement needs to be concise in order for it to be memorable for a company’s employees to understand and use it.

  • Apply

With the key concepts and points of learning, the students then embark on an experience to apply the learning.  Students will write a mission statement for a group or organization in which they belong and evaluate the effectiveness of that mission statement over the course of the semester.