What is “Experiential Education”?

I always smile when one of our participants mistakenly calls it “Experimental Education”, because in a way Experiential Education is about experimenting and trying new things. However, the principles of Experiential Education have evolved since at least the late 19th century, and are well past the stage of being considered a far out “experimental” form of education.

Team building

Experiential Education is rooted in the actual experience of an individual or a group. The more remarkable the experience is, the more opportunities exist for profound learning and growth. Educational philosopher John Dewey (the same John Dewey that invented the Dewey Decimal System) observed in the early 1900’s that if students learned the skill of critical thinking, they would teach themselves far more over the course of their lifetime than they could ever learn by memorizing historical dates or mathematical formulas.

Mr. Dewey also believed in the concept of “serious play”, that people can strengthen their critical thinking skills by reflecting on experiences that challenge them to look at the world in a new way. Experiential Education allows participants to form opinions and plans, test out their hypothesis, see the results, and think about what just happened and what to try next; much like the scientific method of experimentation.

So whenever I hear someone say Experimental Education, I usually don’t correct them. After all, some healthy experimenting is a big part of the learning experience!

To learn more about John Dewey’s educational philosophy, check out one of his most well-known books, Experience in Education.


mark-headshot-Mark Diedering | Summer Camp Director