SoundOut's Adam Fletcher working with middle school students in San Raphael, California.

Experiential Education and Meaningful Student Involvement

Since it is one of the things that can make student involvement meaningful, experiential education is a at the center of Meaningful Student Involvement. Experiential education is any learning that happens through direct experience, whether it has intentionally stated learning goals or whether learning remains nebulous, interpretive or unspoken. Students create knowledge, skills and values from active, hands-on activities both inside and outside classrooms.

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The key idea in experiential education is engaging student voice in action in order to foster learning. Both through teacher-facilitated activities and student-led action, students experience real situations with real outcomes. Meaningful Student Involvement encourages students and educators to see each other as learning partners, refusing to put either role in an inferior position. Instead of seeing learning as a passive, receptive activity, experiential education can encourage students and educators to see learning as interactive and limitless.

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Roles for Students

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When learning moves from focusing on rote memorization and desk time (time-on-task) towards interactivity, engagement and solving real-world problems, students have to begin seeing it in different ways. They quickly assume ownership of learning, teaching and leadership. Becoming immeshed in activities, they can learn to see education as a non-linear, lifelong activity they’re capable of initiating, building, sustaining and critically examining. Through Meaningful Student Involvement, they can become education researchers, school planners, classroom teachers, learning evaluators, systemic decision-makers, and education advocates.

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These roles, and many others, allow students to see knowledge as an active, engaged process they can invest in. Active learning can also move students into the broader community outside the walls of schools. Students interact with the surrounding area, whether in the geographic features, natural spaces, built environment, social gatherings, political and government, or other activities and places. Interacting with adults in dynamic, new roles, they can actually transform adult perspectives of students and alter expectations for learning and the school in the larger community. Experiencing increasingly independent and self-directed learning, experiential learning can also lead to extensive use of technology, different and more collaborative relationships between students and adults, and several other features. (Schroeder, 2005)

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Whether learning through life or lifelike situations, in experiential education opportunities, students can develop views of educators as facilitators or co-learners and views of themselves as owners and facilitators of their own learning. This is a key outcome of Meaningful Student Involvement.

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Roles for Teachers

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In order to effectively facilitate experiential education, the roles of teachers have to transform, too. Without the ability to predict direct outcomes from chosen learning activities, teachers have to become nimble facilitators and co-learners. Working alongside students, teachers reflect with students and respond to outcomes throughout learning activities. Instead of being mechanistic curriculum deliverers, teachers respond to students’ diverse engagement styles by adapting their approaches, activities and expectations.

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In experiential education, educators also move from being traditional knowledge transmitters towards becoming learning coaches. Acting as student learning support specialists, experiential education can allow educators to see the entirety of students. This is one reason why its key to Meaningful Student Involvement.

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Ultimately, teachers may need different supports in order to meet the demands of experiential education. Sizer (1984) suggested they include, “altered teaching loads, new student activities, diplomas based on achievement, and curriculum simplification”.

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Experiential Education Activities

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Depending on the situation, teachers using experiential education approaches can use a variety of activities, such as:

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Types of Experiential Education

Experiential education can include many different learning approaches that can also make student involvement meaningful. They can include:

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