Experiential Learning: Bridging the Gap Between Engaged and Disengaged

Not all disengaged students fall into the stereotype of the slacker who comes late to class (if at all), or is as easy to spot as Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In fact there are a number of students who are masters at playing the game … doing just enough to get by … attending class but not really participating, much less engaging with the content.

In the 90-minute online seminar, Engaging the Disengaged with Experiential Learning, Jim La Prad and Andy Mink provided an instructional framework for getting full participation from all students, and encouraged educators to think about why some students might be disengaged. (Hint, it’s not all on the student.)

Sharing perspectives rooted in the beliefs of John Dewey and Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn, the presenters believe that experiential education “has the potential to help educators transform their pedagogical practices to more deeply engage their students and improve learning outcomes.”

Mink, director of Outreach and Education for the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, and La Prad, associate professor of Education at Western Illinois University, are both past recipients of the National Educator of the Year award from the National Society for Experiential Education. In the seminar, they used a combination of video vignettes and commentary to discuss what they call the ECHO model of experiential education.

The ECHO model includes the following four components:

  • Explore – An initial inquiry based approach to what a participant knows and wants to learn.
  • Create – An opportunity for participants to have common a experience.
  • Harvest – An invitation for participants to reflect on their common experience.
  • Own – A suggestion for participants to transform and transfer their experiences for use in their contexts.

Mink and La Prad also introduced the concept of an Experiential Learning Compass, a set of guiding principles for authentic learning in classroom and community activities that can be incorporated into a variety of courses, and include activities beyond the physical, outdoor adventures that are most often associated with experiential education.

“The important thing to remember about experiential learning is these experiences can be created in the classroom,” says Mink. “It doesn’t have to happen in the wilderness.”