Teaching Essentials

Experiential Learning

Experiential education is defined by Simon Fraser University as “the strategic, active engagement of students in opportunities to learn through doing, and reflection on those activities, which empowers them to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical endeavours in a multitude of settings inside and outside of the classroom.”

Red River College Polytechnic employs experiential learning all over the College. To some it might seem difficult to conduct this kind of learning in a blended or online environment, but there are pedagogically sound ways of employing experiential learning in these contexts.

Flipped classroom models give students the responsibility to study online before they come to class, a lab, or a workshop. Once face to face the learning that they acquired through online resources is questioned, practiced, applied, and evaluated.

In fully online models, experiential learning can be conducted through online conferencing, social learning through chats and discussion forums, learning to collaborate with groups, and through the documentation of learning with e-portfolios and the power of mobile devices to capture video, audio, gps coordinates, and annotate them.

Some experiences can only be had online for most learners. Imagine experiencing the dangerous destruction testing of a new jet engine. This can be documented and presented in immersive simulations or 3D video and shared safely with students in ways that they couldn’t even experience in real life.

The association for experiential education lists the principles of experiential education practice as:

  • “Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
  • Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
  • Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  • Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
  • The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
  • Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner to the world at large.
  • The educator and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
  • Opportunities are nurtured for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
  • The educator’s primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
  • The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
  • Educators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these influence the learner.
  • The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes” (AEE, 2015).

Please see lesson 3.6 in Tony Bates’ Teaching in a Digital Age for further reading.

Check out the e-Portfolio page to learn more about using e-portfolios to support experiential learning.


Association for Experiential Education (AEE). 2015. What is Experiential Education?

Bates, T. (2015). Teaching in a Digital Age.

University Of Waterloo Centre For Teaching Excellence. 2015. Experiential Learning.