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The Experiential Learning Process

Experiential Learning (EL) is a “process through which a learner constructs knowledge, skill, and value from direct experience”.1 EL is conceptualized as a spiral and is made up of four stages, namely: Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation. Concrete experience pertains to the experience created so that learning can occur. Reflective observation is where an “opportunity is created” so students can reflect upon the experience and make meaning of said experience. Abstract conceptualization is the stage when a student explores what can be learned from the experience. At this stage, a theory is introduced to facilitate the learning. The last stage of EL, active experimentation, takes place when the student is able to internalize the learning and takes that learning with him or her into the world as a new way of living.2

Experiential learning has deep roots. Ancient Greek dramatist, Sophocles, acknowledged the benefit of hands-on learning in deepening human understanding: “One must learn by doing the thing: for though you think you know it you have no certainty until you try.”3 Commenting on the value of experience as a tool for learning, author A.N. Whitehead penned, "First-hand knowledge is the ultimate basis of the intellectual life….To a large extent, book-learning conveys second-hand information, and as such can never rise to the importance of immediate practice.” 4

The benefits of experiential learning to students are manifold. First, it allows students to gain an overall understanding of the real-world environment. For example, students who major in Chemistry may have chances to interact with the chemical environment. Learners who have a desire to become business people will have the opportunity to experience management in a business setting. Second, it provides opportunities for creativity. As students are exposed to real-world situations, they are presented with the opportunity to formulate possible solutions to an observed problem. Third, it facilitates ease in retaining knowledge. As students interact with real-life experiences, they will have a better chance to retain that information. As Aristotle once pointed out, “the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”5 Fourth, since experiential learning focuses on the learning process for the individual, it effectively shifts the focus to the student as the responsible active and involved learner.

Finally, experiential learning benefits the student in almost every aspect of everyday life in general. Indeed, experiential learning is a process that develops an individual’s analytical, decision-making and problem-solving skills, all of which are necessary for leading productive and successful lives.



Reference List

  1. Zehavit Gross and Suzanne D. Rutland, “Experiential learning in informal educational settings”, International Review of Education, Vol.63, Iss.1 (Feb.,2017):1-8, Accessed July 19, 2018,
  2. Kim Schmidt and John Victor Rautenbach, “Field Instruction: Is the Heart of Social Work Education still beating in the Eastern Cape? Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk Vol 52, No 4; Issue 8, accessed July 19, 2018,
  3. Science Quotes by Sophocles. Today in Science History.
  4. A.N. Whitehead, The Aims of Education ( New York: McMillan, 1929) 79.
  5. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, ed. Roger Crisp (2000), 23, in the Questia Digital Library, accessed July 11, 2018,

Experiential Learning Process at Missional University

Experiential Learning is rooted in three foundational Biblical concepts:  1) the Old Testament concept that integrates “observing” with following; 2) the New Testament concept of “disciple” as a learner who follows the master teacher; and 3) the New Testament concept of “witness” as the person who explains what he has seen and heard.

These form the three distinct learning processes of “Observa,” “Discipulus,” and “Testimonium.”  We have chosen to represent these concepts with the Latin terms taken from the Latin translation of the Scripture as a way of signaling to students the meaning of each learning process.