What is Experiential Learning?

Experiential learning’s central tenet is that “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from a combination of grasping and transforming experience” (Kolb, 1984, p 41). 

The following table highlights how the components of the experiential learning cycle can be applied in practice:

Component Example
Concrete Experiences Identify an issue/experience in students’ community, home, region.
Reflective Observation Capture a reflection from the experience via writing, journaling, peer-engagement, and/or discussion.
Abstract Conceptualization Expand and complement the issue/experience with related resources, lecture, readings, theories.
Active Experimentation Apply lessons learned by exploring possible solutions to the original issue or other similar issues.

Experiential learning can be conceptualized as a process with several components as shown in the table above (McLeod, 2017): students have an experience (Concrete Experience), reflect on observations about that experience (Reflective Observation), analyze responses and formulate new ideas (Abstract Conceptualization), and then actively test these new ideas in new situations (Active Experimentation). This process is a continual cycle, with increasing complexity (Kolb & Kolb, 2005).

Why and When to Use Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning is a high impact practice, and there is direct correlation between this particular type of student engagement and (better) student retention (National survey of student engagement). In addition, students who are involved in experiential learning engagements (both micro and macro) learn more, remember their learning in a more positive context, and are therefore more engaged students (and alumni).  

There are two main categories of experiential learning approaches: 

  1. field-based (service-learning, internships, practicums) and 
  2. classroom-based learning (simulations, role-plays, case studies, and more). 

Both categories, field-based and classroom-based, may utilize the same types of experiential learning: problem-based learning, project-based learning, case-based learning, cooperative- or community-based learning, and/or inquiry-based learning. Below, we explore each type by providing you with a definition and example. 

Certain assignments or courses lend themselves more easily to experiential learning; however, almost every course has the space for at least one opportunity for guided interaction with a theory, knowledge/cultural product, institution, and/or community outside of the classroom.

Principles of Experiential Education

(based on the Association of Experiential Education)

Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.

  • Experiences are structured to require the student to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for results.
  • Throughout the experiential learning process, the student is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  • Students are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully, and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
  • The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
  • Relationships are developed and nurtured: student to self, student to others, and student to the world at large.
  • The instructor and student may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking, and uncertainty, because the outcomes of the experience cannot totally be predicted.
  • Opportunities are nurtured for students and instructors to explore and examine their own values.
  • The instructor’s primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting students, ensuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
  • The instructor recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
  • Instructors strive to be aware of their biases, judgments, and pre-conceptions, and how these influence the student.
  • The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes, and successes.

Types of Experiential Learning

Below, we cover different ways of approaching experiential learning; these methods are known by a variety of names, some of which are similar. Consider your course goals and choose to describe your approach with language that befits those goals as well as your class climate.

Problem-based learning

“Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which complex real-world problems are used as the vehicle to promote student learning of concepts and principles as opposed to direct presentation of facts and concepts. In addition to course content, PBL can promote the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and communication skills. It can also provide opportunities for working in groups, finding and evaluating research materials, and life-long learning” (Duch et al, 2001).

In problem-based learning, learning begins with a problem.  It “is an active and iterative process that engages students to identify what they know and, more importantly, what they don’t know.” University of Delaware – https://www.itue.udel.edu/about-us/itue-at-ud

Examples at Georgetown

  • In the Applied Cybersecurity & Crisis Management certificate course (XBUS-605), students participate in a simulated cyber incident, forcing them to make quick decisions with time constraints, limited information, and external pressures.
  • In MSB’s Real Estate Private Equity course (FINC-579), students are asked to look at a potential investment from the perspective of an investor who is assessing their potential risk of capital loss and the likely upside of making the investment.

Project-based learning

“Project-Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge” (PBLworks.org).

“Project-based learning is a teaching method that: engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks” (Markham, Larmer and Ravitz, 2003, p. 4).

Examples at Georgetown

  • In MSB’s Globalization & Wine Industry course (MGMT-573), the final project requires students to work in teams of 5 to advise the CEOs of different vineyards about entering or (expanding into) international markets. The deliverable must be in the form of a video recording of the team presenting their analysis and recommendations along with a written report.

Case-based learning

“Case-based learning is a pedagogical concept, where work method, problem, and discipline are identified by the learner (or learners) through the learning process. Case-based learning is oriented toward a case, which from different perspectives generates different and equally correct problems. Case-based learning is about choosing, deciding priorities, and combining different disciplines, and as such is best practiced in a multidisciplinary context” (Rosenstand).

Examples at Georgetown

  • In GIS for Emergency Disaster Management (EDM) course (MPDM-630), students are expected to find and read two academic, peer-reviewed case studies related to GIS for EDM and then discuss how maps provide geographic context for emergency management and how they support situation awareness.

Cooperative- or community-based learning

Community-Based Learning refers to instructional methods and programs that educators use to connect course content to community context, by collaborating with local organizations, institutions, history, literature, cultural heritage, and natural environments. Community-based learning is also motivated by the belief that all communities have intrinsic educational assets and resources that educators can employ to enhance learning experiences for students (Glossary of Education Reform).

Examples at Georgetown

  • Spanish in the Community (SPAN 380) and Spanish in the US involve ongoing partnerships with community-based organizations in the DMV. Students in these courses provide interpretation and translation services, virtually or in person, to Spanish-speaking community members. In class and assignments, students reflect on their experience working in these community service activities and learning from community members about their experiences to learn about the sociology of language in the United States.

Inquiry-based learning

Inquiry-based learning emphasizes questions, ideas, observations, and analyses. Instructors establish “a culture where ideas are respectfully challenged, tested, redefined and viewed as improvable,” moving learners from a position of judgment, disagreement, and assumptions to one of curiosity, shared exploration, and questions (Scardamalia, 2002; https://www.hsdinstitute.org/).

Tool Ideas

Experiential Learning Programs at Georgetown

Georgetown Law offers the following types of experiential learning opportunities:

Appendix A includes resources outside of Georgetown that focus on museums and art, performing arts, site tours, collaborative language learning, religious services, podcasts and more. 

Virtual Experiential Learning Resources

Museums and Art

British Museum – Fully immersive timeline of art w/ individual pieces in the collection highlighted and clickable.

Louvre – Click on individual exhibitions w/ in the Louvre to be virtually dropped into the space.

Rijksmuseum – App and/ or Multimedia experience of the Rijksmuseum collection of Dutch Old and New masters.

Musee d’Orsay – Google Earth/ Street View driven tour of the collections – can zoom in on individual pieces.

The Vatican – Virtual (Google Street View tour) of major attractions, including St. Peter’s Square, Sistine Chapel (with close-ups) and the Vatican museum.

Van Gogh’s Starry Night – High resolution image of painting, with explanations of different elements

Johannesburg Art Gallery

London’s Tate Museum

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors – Video tour of single exhibition of Kusama’s travelling Infinity Mirrors piece

Indonesian Prambanan – Google Street View-driven tour of Indonesia’s 9th century Hindu temple on Java

Rosicrucian Museum in Egypt – Google Street View-derived virtual walking tour of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s major exhibitions

Site Tours

Machu Picchu — UNESCO approved virtual tour of the site, w/ ability to enter individual structures.

Safari Live Tours:

Gorillas in the Congo — Best viewing hours: 10am – 11:30am BST (5:00am – 6:30am EST), 1:30pm to 3pm BST.

Ngala and Djuma Private Game Reserves (South Africa) — Best viewing hours: 5:00am – 8:00am BST (12:00am – 3:00am EST), 2:30 – 5:30pm BST

Tembe Elephant Park — Best viewing hours: 6:00am – 9:00am BST (1:00am – 4:00am EST), 3:00pm – 6:30pm BST

Performing Arts

Royal Opera House — Youtube collection of recordings of Operas staged by British Royal Opera House.

Vienna Opera House — Streaming performances by Vienna’s State Opera, and access to a library of previous works.

Moscow Ballet — Videos of the ballet’s most popular works hosted on its YouTube channel.


Cooking classes (Pasta making!) with an Italian grandmother — Derived from an AirBnB experience, online classes in pasta making.

Masterclass Courses (paid)

French Cooking — Taught by Thomas Keller (of the French Laundry and Per Se)

Italian Cooking — Taught by Massimo Bottura

Collaborative Language Learning


Religious Services

Tower of David

Jerusalem’s Old City

Mecca — VR


Virtual Runs — Virtual workout platforms, where users download an app, complete a virtual run, and proceeds are donated to charitable causes.

Strava Group Runs:

  • Orchard Street Runners challenge
  • Biking Challenge

Travel Podcasts

Flights of Fancy — Podcast over general travel topics.

The Thoughtful Travel — Stitcher-hosted podcast about selected topics in travel, such as: contributing to climate change while traveling; practicing sensitivity when visiting culturally significant sites; Anxiety & Travel

Women who Travel — Conde Nast-sponsored podcast about the anxieties and realities of traveling as a woman, alone and with a group.


Davidson, Curt.  (2020). “Interactive and Experiential Modalities for Online Teaching and Converting our Courses in the Time of the Pandemic.” Retrieved from https://www.aee.org/WEBINARS

Kolb, D. (1984). “Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development.” New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Kolb, A. & Kolb, D. (2005). “Learning Styles and Learning Spaces: Enhancing Experiential Learning in Higher Education.” Academy of Management Learning & Education (4), 193-212. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40214287?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.

Markham, T., Larmer, J., & Ravitz, J. (2003). “Project-Based Learning Handbook: A Guide to Standards Focused Project-Based Learning for Middle and High School Teachers.” Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education.

McLeod, S. A. (2017, October 24). “Kolb – learning styles and experiential learning cycle.” Simply Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html.

PBLWorks. “What is PBL?” Retrieved September 11, 2020 from https://www.pblworks.org/

Rosenstand C.A.F. (2012). “Case-Based Learning.” In: Seel N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6_812

The Glossary of Education Reform. (2014, March 03). “Community-Based Learning.” Retrieved from: https://www.edglossary.org/community-based-learning/