“Do, reflect and apply:” Experiental learning is an effective approach in 4-H programming

Experiential learning expands and connects the educational activities to life skills. This creates a more authentic experience for the learner with application to their community and future.

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 – in all instances, the experiential learning model is being used and your youth are benefitting from the “Do, Reflect and Apply” learning process.

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 behind 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. The Development and Evaluation of Experiential Learning Workshops for 4-H Volunteers highlights the research behind experiential education Research shows that when it is applied in the after-school or out-of-school setting, it can enhance the youth learning process and develop 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 would describe the experience; the young person would do the activity. While the young people are preparing the soil, the leader might comment, “How is it working?” or “What might make it easier?”

Step two is to share what just happened during the activity where young people share 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 thegeneralize 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 inquire, “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 experience to a deeper level with applications to their club, community and world.

A starting point for information on Curriculum Development 4-H is available online.

Email Sheila Urban Smith at smith20@anr.edu for more information.

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