A learning experience is any experience a student has in which they learn something. They can be both intentional and unintentional and both in and outside of schools.
Learning experiences can be structured, or unstructured, direct, or vicarious. They can come from listening to a lecture, reading, participating in an activity, or through observation.
For teachers in structured learning situations, it is often suggested that learning experiences be:
- Tied to educational objectives
- Meaningful and engaging
- Age appropriate
- Match the learning style of students
- Connected to real-life situations
- Varied and dynamic
- Culturally aware
- Designed to allow students options
Types of Learning Experiences
- Structured – These are experiences that have a clear procedure to ensure that the learning occurs. Example: A chemistry professor uses direct instruction to explain how atoms are held together by chemical bonds to form molecules.
- Unstructured – These are experiences that have learning as a goal, but allow students to find their own way to learn the lesson. Example: Students are given a set of materials such as paper towel tubes, tape, scissors, and cardboard to make their own marble runs (see also: unstructured play).
- Experiential – These situations involve students ‘experiencing’ what it’s like to be in a certain situation. Example: business students engage in a simulation that involves assuming different roles in a labor-contract negotiation.
- Collaborative – This involves learning that occurs alongside and with other learners. Example: Students must work in teams to develop a customer satisfaction survey, collect data, analyze the data and graph the results.
- Observational – This involves passive learning, where students come to a realization simply through watching something occur. Example: A young child observes their father cracking eggs to make breakfast and then tries to mimic the actions.
- Reading – Written text can be used as a form of instruction and therefore can facilitate learning. Example: Students are assigned to read the next chapter for homework and take the sample test at the end.
- Independent – This learning experience doesn’t involve a formal teacher, but is instigated and pursued by the learner themselves. Example: A college student takes computer programming courses online during their summer vacation.
- Blended – This type of learning involves a mix of teacher instruction and student-led inquiry. Example: The assignment involves students listening to their professor’s lecture in the classroom, supplemented with material from an online seminar.
- Project-Based – The student is provided a project, and learning occurs through the process of completing the project. Example: Fifth graders make a poster on volcanoes that includes text, diagrams, and photos.
- Sensory Based – This learning takes place when our senses (touch, feel, taste, smell, sight) give us stimuli that help us comprehend our world. Example: A 12-month-old grasps an unfamiliar object, examines it visually, tries to pull it apart, smells it and then puts it in its mouth to determine if it is edible.
Learning Experience Examples
- Internship: During internships, we get to learn what it’s like to do a certain job and whether we’d enjoy it.
- Apprenticeship: During apprenticeships, we learn on the job, which helps to develop practical rather than theoretical skills.
- Reading a good book: Reading books isn’t just fun. A good book also teaches us moral and life lessons.
- Project-based learning tasks: In this learning experience, students are given projects to complete. In the process of doing the project, learning naturally occurs.
- Inquiry-based learning task: Students are given a puzzle to investigate, and, through investigation, they gain deep knowledge.
- Lightbulb moment: A lightbulb moment is any moment where you finally reach a realization about something (see also: threshold concepts)
- Take your kid to work day: Attending a parent’s workplace is often highly educational to a child who can get an insight into what it means to work in a certain profession.
- Losing: Losing in a sporting game helps you learn to be gracious in defeat.
- Failing: In failure, we often get a chance to reflect and figure out what we did wrong so we succeed next time.
- Success: Failure often teaches more than success, but if we reflect on our successes, we can also learn what we did right to ensure we succeed again in the future.
- Observation: Observing another child getting in trouble and deciding it’s best not to misbehave.
- Conducting primary research: Research studies, such as dissertations at university, are designed to learn something new (often that no one knew before).
- Experimentation: Experiments allow us to test hypotheses that lead to new insights on a topic.
- Self-reflection: Through self-reflection, we explore how our personal experiences have educational value.
- Vicarious punishment: People see the negative consequences of someone else’s actions, so they decide not to participate in those behaviors themselves (see also: vicarious reinforcement).
- Writing an essay: The process of constructing an essay involves conducting research and figuring out how to structure an argument, which helps you to develop your knowledge.
- Teamwork tasks: Students are often set teamwork tasks not only to complete a curriculum outcome, but also to learn how to get along with others to reach a common goal.
- Attending a presentation: Presentations from teachers, colleagues, or mentors are designed to help structure educational information into a clear and simple learning experience.
- Professional development days: Professional development days can involve learning about the newest innovations in an industry so we can remain relevant and skilled practitioners.
- Seminars: In university, seminars are small group learning experiences that facilitate conversation between peers.
- One-to-one coaching: One to one coaching is a valuable learning experience because it’s catered directly to the student’s needs, unlike whole group instruction.
- Embarrassment: Embarrassment is often very confronting and leaves a big impression, which teaches us to avoid certain behaviors in the future.
- Play: Both children and adults engage in play to learn about ourself, our bodies, how to develop social skills, and so much more (see also: play based learning).
- Conversation: Through one-to-one conversations, we can gather other people’s perspectives on issues, which can help us to learn more about the issues.
- Teachable moments: Teachable moments are everyday instances that can help elucidate an important lesson for students.
- Disciplinary scenarios: Good disciplinary techniques should teach a clear lesson, such as “this behavior is unacceptable” or “this action leads to this negative consequence”.
Learning Experiences Case Studies
1. Inquiry-Based Learning Experience
According to Lee et al. (2004), inquiry-based learning is an “array of classroom practices that promote student learning through guided and, increasingly, independent investigation of complex questions and problems, often for which there is no single answer” (p. 9).
For example, in a traditional anthropology course, a professor will lecture while students diligently take notes that are committed to rote memory and later regurgitated on an exam.
However, in an inquiry-based lesson, instead of telling students about cultural artifacts, their relevance to a specific culture, and what they were used for, the lesson would be reversed.
The professor gives the artifacts to the students and then says nothing.
The students then set out to examine the objects and conduct their own research. They try to identify what the objects are, what they are used for, which culture they belong to, and whatever else they can uncover.
This is a type of learning experience that is far more engaging to students. The information is processed at a much deeper level and their interest and motivation is far higher than what would occur in a traditional lecture format.
2. Service-Oriented Learning Experience
Service-oriented learning refers to when students apply academic concepts to help address community or societal needs. This type of learning experience contains several elements of other types of learning. It is often experiential, collaborative, and project-based.
For example, the Growing Voters report by Tufts University provides institutions with a valuable framework for facilitating participation of the next generation of U. S. voters.
The framework identifies ways that educators and community leaders can “…close voting gaps, expand the electorate, and support a more equitable and representative American democracy”.
This is the type of learning experience for students that also addresses a societal need. However, it’s more than just volunteering: “…service-learning applies equal focus to both learning and the service goals. It requires an academic context and is designed so that that the service and learning goals are mutually reinforcing” (Starting Point, n.d.).
3. Performance-Based Learning Experience
Performance-based learning involves students developing specific skills related to the subject being studied. It helps them see the connection between abstract academic concepts and how those concepts manifest themselves in the real world.
For example, this group of math teachers spent a tremendous amount of time designing a learning experience called Mission Relief. The students play different roles in a simulated emergency scenario involving an airplane.
By applying mathematical formulas and various aeronautical concepts, the students are tasked with guiding the plane to safety.
Performance-based learning is far more interesting to students than traditional formats. It completely transforms the learning experience.
Students process the information more deeply and learn about the subtle nuances of a subject that can only be appreciated through experience.
An internship is when a student works in an organization for several months, for free. That organization could be a small business, large corporation, or non-profit organization. Internships are great ways for students to gain practical experience.
Majoring in a subject domain involves processing a lot of abstract information, taking a lot of notes, writing papers, and studying for exams.
But, there is no way for a student to know if they would actually like to have a career in that line of work without having any experience actually doing the job.
So, an internship is a valuable opportunity for students to dip their toe in the water and find out what the profession is really like.
The results can be quite surprising. Many times, a student will discover that the daily job responsibilities are completely unlike what they envisioned. In other cases, students’ career interests are affirmed, even strengthened, as they discover the job is even more exciting than they imagined.
5. Study Abroad
In the era of globalization, it has never been more important to attain some cross-cultural experience. Many occupations today and in the future will involve collaborating with people that are located in foreign lands. That’s why studying abroad is so valuable.
Many universities offer students the unique opportunity to study in a foreign country. These programs can be for as short as a few weeks or as long as an entire academic year.
Students can stay with a host family that has been carefully chosen, or live in a campus dormitory.
In addition, the credits they receive for the college courses they take transfer to their home institution.
The benefits are numerous: cultural enlightenment, development of a global perspective, forming new friendships, even becoming proficient in a second language.
Of course, not every aspect of studying abroad is super fantastic. Beware of the infamous culture shock.
There are many types of learning experiences. Students today have many options that were once never even imagined.
Educational practices have evolved to be inclusive and dynamic. Teachers and professors take into account the characteristics of their students, their learning styles, and their motivation levels.
Students can learn in the classroom, in the real world, in the virtual world, or in another country. Today, the options are limitless.
Furco, A. and Billig, S.H., (2002) Service-Learning: The Essence of the Pedagogy. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Lee, V. S., Greene, D. B., Odom, J., Schechter, E., & Slatta, R. W. (2004). What is inquiry guided learning. In V. S. Lee (Ed.), Teaching and learning through inquiry: A guidebook for institutions and instructors (pp. 3-15). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Starting Point. (n.d.). What is service learning? Retrieved November 2, 2022, from https://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/service/what.html
Wirkala, C., & Kuhn, D. (2011). Problem-based learning in K–12 education: Is it effective and how does it achieve its effects? American Educational Research Journal, 48(5), 1157–1186. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831211419491