A Historical Perspective
Experiential Learning: A Historical Perspective
Alexander Levitt
Vanderbilt University
April 2, 2011
Dr. Pearl Sims


Most classes are structured with a linear learning model that revolves around a teacher giving a spoken lecture and students reading textbooks. However, while this may be the most commonly utilized transfer of learning for students, it is not the most effective teaching method. In order to learn in the most effective way possible, learning must occur in a process that incorporates direct experience. This type of learning is called experiential education. It is a learning methodology in which the teacher places the student in direct experiences that enable students to utilize reflection as a means to increase knowledge, develop skills, and clarify values. Certainly those who study experiential education turn to the works of David Kolb as the founder of experiential learning. However, there is a list of others who helped shape the literature of experiential learning. Therefore, while Kolb received much of the credit as the expert in experiential learning, this paper focuses on the writings and practices of Plato, Gestalt psychologists, Kurt Lewin, and Maria Montessori and the role they played helping shape David Kolb’s learning theories and thus, their prevalence in forming today’s understanding of experiential learning is lacking from the academic dialogue. Streaming from the theories of Plato, Gestalt, Lewin, Montessori, and Kolb the modern definition of experiential learning set for Association for Experiential Education (AEE), one can see how the work of these individuals helped shape our contemporary understanding of the value of direct experience in learning. The works of these three individuals is then merged to form a new model of experiential learning.