Experiential Learning - effective programming

The do, reflect, and apply of experiential learning makes learning fun and has an impact.

A bowl being made out of clay.

Experiential learning expands and connects educational activities to life skills. This creates a more authentic experience for the learner with application to their community and future. Explore the Michigan State University Extension website for several articles regarding experiential learning.

Maybe you’re snapping pictures with young people in a digital photography 4-H club as they explore framing a spectacular scenery photo. Maybe you’re guiding a group on a walk through a garden. Perhaps you’re teaching geography in a middle school classroom or leading a pottery making class – in all instances, the experiential learning model is being used and your youth are benefitting from the “Do, Reflect, and Apply” learning process.

The 4-H Youth Development’s “Learn by Doing” motto is a classic example of experiential learning in application. This model is grounded in education research and has been explored by numerous authors to understand both the cognitive development foundation and the steps involved in the learning process.

Expanding on the three steps of “Do, Reflect, and Apply” results in the five steps of do, share, process, generalize, and apply: the basis of the experiential learning model.  Research shows that when it is applied in the afterschool or out-of-school setting, it can enhance the youth learning process and support the development of life skills.

The actively engaged learner is paramount to the experiential learning model. Exploring the model begins with the experience of doing,” such as preparing soil to plant sunflower seeds. The leader describes the experience, and the young person performs the activity. While the young person is preparing the soil, the leader might ask, “How is it working?” or “What might make it easier?”

Step two is to share what just happened during the activity where young people communicate their observations and reactions to the activity, such as “what did you do?”

Step three is to process and involves the leader asking questions that encourage youth to consider what is important. For example, an instructor might ask, “Was this similar to other experiences you have had?”

Step four addresses the generalize concept. The leader may ask the young people to relate the experience to their lives and connects the activity to life skills in their world. The facilitator might ask something like, “What did you learn about being part of a team?” Or “Did you learn something about yourself as you _____?”

Finally, step five is the application or the now what? where young people apply what was learned to a similar or different situation. For example, the facilitator could ask, “How will you use this information in the future?”

These five steps can simply be whittled to the three steps of “do, reflect, and apply,” but it’s important to note that the experiential learning model builds on the curiosity of the learner, using the learner’s prior experiences, and taking the new knowledge to a deeper level with applications to their club, community, and world.

The 4-H curriculum utilizes this process and is available online. If you are ready to volunteer and help young people develop their skills and experience the joy of seeing the process unfold before you, sign up today to be a volunteer.  

Did you find this article useful?