A Historical Perspective

American psychiatrist, William Glaser once said, "We learn...10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we discuss, 80% of what we experience, and 95% of what we teach others" (experientiallearning.ucdavis.edu). With this said however, when thinking about how college students learn today, learning is often seen as a process of learning through reading and listening to lectures. As Glaser noted, learning through reading and hearing does not lead to knowledge retention. Therefore, it is essential for learning to occur in other ways. Yet, questions arise as to the methods for learning exist that enable students to have an opportunity to truly ingratiate in their learning.

The purpose of this paper is to present experiential education as means to promote learning in college students. Yet, in order to understand the value of experiential education as a learning tool, it is critical to define experiential education through historical lenses, trace its origins, and discuss how today definition of experiential education is an evolution of the historical record. While many classes are designed with a linear model of learning that involves the teacher transferring knowledge and assessing knowledge, as Glaser notes, the methodologies of this linear learning model (reading and hearing) aren’t the most beneficial vehicles by which students learn. In opposition to linear learning, experiential learning is a cyclical process that moves from concrete experience, to reflective observation, to abstract conceptualization, to active experimentation, back to concrete experience (Kolb, 1984).

There is tremendous value that educators today must place on experience as a learning tool that helps students build knowledge and develop. The Association for Experiential Education (AEE) was established to further advance experiential education through connecting "...educators in practical ways so that they have access to the body of knowledge that fuels their growth and development" (www.aee.org). Since the AEE is the primary professional membership association for experiential education, it is important to know how the AEE defines experiential education. The AEE defines experiential education as "...a philosophy and methodology in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills and clarify values" (AEE, 2011). However, while the AEE definition describes our modern day understanding of experiential education, this definition was formed over time. Thus, examining how this definition has evolved over time, offers a deeper understanding of experiential learning. The literature of philosophers, psychologists, and school and program founders, are full of philosophies and theories that have helped formulate today’s definition of experiential education. While the work of David Kolb is often cited the primary foundation of modern experiential education, the works of Plato, Gestalt psychologists, Kurt Lewin, and Maria Montessori are equally important in the evolution of experiential education.