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Experiential or Service Learning

Today's learners are interested in opportunities to get involved in their communities and apply what they are learning to real sociopolitical issues. Experiential learning is a model that combines classroom learning and active learning, engaging learners in an experience that they then reflect on to learn (Felicia, 2011). To differentiate from other experiential learning experiences (e.g., internships, volunteerism, field experiences), "'service-learning' occurs when there is a balance between learning goals and service outcomes," producing reciprocal benefits (Furco, 1996). Examples might include an information technology course in which learners create a training program for a nonprofit agency or a secondary education course in which learners help adolescents make the transition to middle school.  

Since not all experiences lead to knowledge, Kolb (1984) suggested that any experiential learning experience should include four stages to promote meaningful learning, as follows: 

  • Concrete experience. Learner is actively involved in the experience. 
  • Reflective observation. Learner reflects on the experience. 
  • Abstract conceptualization. Learner uses analytic skills to conceptualize and better understand the experience. 
  • Active experimentation. Learner possesses the skills necessary to use the experience as a springboard to test new ideas. (Starting Point, 2018) 

In experiential learning, teams of learners often work with a subject-matter expert and front-line professionals to develop realistic goals, objectives, assessments, evaluation tools, and design activities for learning. In this win-win situation, learners become familiar with course content in a meaningful way, and in service learning, the community has benefited. In short, experiential learning combines social learning, active learning, and problem-based learning to provide learners with a deeper understanding of course concepts and their potential applications.  


    Felicia, P. (2011). Handbook of Research on Improving Learning and Motivation. Retrieved from

    Furco, S. (1996). Service-learning: A balanced approach to experiential education. Retrieved from

    Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.  

    Starting Point. (2018). What is service-learning? Retrieved from