Experiential Learning is a term used to describe a process of “learning by doing.” As opposed to simply reading or hearing about a concept, it is the immersion of an individual in a setting that allows for a physical, emotional, cognitive experience of the setting, context or concept for concrete learning. This can occur through real life experiences or through simulated experiences.
David A. Kolb (Kolb, 1975) describes an experiential learning model in 4 stages that allow experiences to be transformed into learning: 1) concrete experience; 2) observation and reflection; 3) forming abstract concepts; and 4) testing in new situations.
The learning cycle is a useful way to understand how experience, when reflected upon and repeatedly tested in new situations, allows for learning that does not naturally occur simply from experiencing. This theory of learning suggests that experiences are most valuable teaching tools when they are transformed through meaning-making. Meaning is made of our experiences when we consciously reflect upon and contemplate the principles at work in our experiences and how they can be used to anticipate what might happen in similar situations in the future.
Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. (1975) 'Toward an applied theory of experiential learning;, in C. Cooper (ed.) Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.