"You Live and Learn!"

Lately, the education world has been abuzz with schools, universities, and organizations who are literally tearing down the classroom walls. Students/employees/all humans are using actual experiences--whether it's observing primates, cooking a Moroccan meal from start to finish, or wandering the palace of Versailles--in order to invoke meaningful learning experiences.

This is not a "trendy" 21st century approach to education researchers. John Dewey, education theorist, is considered the grandfather of experiential learning. Decades ago, Dewey said something along the lines of, "We can't just read about the world!"

He claimed there is an organic and intrinsic connection between education and personal experience.

In other words, "you live and learn!"

If Dewey were alive today though, he would wag his finger and tell us experience cannot always stand alone as an educational experience. Nope--everything depends on the QUALITY of the experience, as some experiences may be detrimental to learning. Educators, program designers, and gap year coaches (oh, hey!) play a crucial role in guiding the experience.

Educators, program designers, and learning coaches (oh, hey!) play a crucial role in guiding the experience.

Man speaking to group of women about experiential education.

Another "celeb" in the education theory world, Kolb, expanded on Dewey's beliefs. Kolb says that meaningful learning happens as a result of action (observing primates) and reflection (What did you notice about the primates? How did they make you feel when you were watching them from afar?).

Learning occurs only when carefully selected experiences are supported by reflection (thinking/journaling/discussing it), analyzing it (what could it mean?), and synthesizing (this is what it meant!).

There is a lot more to understand about learning--the physiology of it, the motivation behind it, its relationship with memory, and more. Academic researchers haven't even reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding how the brain navigates learning processes. 


  • Association for Experiential Education (2015). What is Experiential Education? Retrieved from http://www.aee.org/what-is-ee

  • Dewey, J. (1998). Experience and education: The 60th Anniversary Edition. West Lafayette: Kappa Delta Pi.

  • Kolb, A. Y. and Kolb, D. A. (2008). Experiential Learning Theory: A dynamic, holistic approach to management learning, education and development. In Armstrong, S. J. & Funkami, C. (Eds.) Handbook of Management Learning Education and Development. London: Sage Publications.