Will you try something with me for a moment? Will you, please? It won’t take long!
As you read this paragraph imagine what my words are describing.
You are laying down in a field of grass on the most perfect day. The sun is shining on your face as you breathe in the smell of flowers and hear the bees happily buzzing around. There is a stream bubbling in the distance and the leaves are dancing ever so slightly in the breeze. You let out a big stretch and settle back into the soft, pillow-like grass…
- What, if any, memories did that bring back for you?
- What is “perfect weather” for you?
- How did your senses react when imagining these things?
Now, try this:
It is fall, what are the correct answers:
|You are laying down on
||What animals are flying by
||The sky is
Thanks for participating! There was a pretty big difference, huh? I dramatized it a bit, but these are contrasting examples of how people are being taught. The first is Experiential Education (EE), and the second is a traditional classroom style. There is much to say about both, but today I want to introduce you to what experiential education is, and its benefits.
The Association of Experiential Education describes both the process and definition of Experiential Education:
Challenge and Experience followed by Reflection leading to Learning and Growth
A philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities.
The process and definition sound great, but how does it actually work? To understand this, we first need to understand how the brain learns. The brain is constantly acquiring information. In order for it to remain functioning it immediately wants to dismiss or store that information. Initially, the brain will put all information worth storing in its “short-term” memory. Neuroscientists have determined three main factors that aid in acquiring information from “short-term” to “long-term”. These factors include: urgency, repetition, and the most influential, association.
Let’s briefly visit each of these factors:
Urgency– This can be when you are fully immersed in a task that is time sensitive. Looking back on this task, you will remember the feelings, general information, and who was involved. Example: You are writing your final paper at 11:53pm… and it is due at 12:01am.
Repetition– Doing something over and over. Practicing a skill, doing a science experiment multiple times, reading a poem to memorize it.
Association– Moments that you can recall that have informed your decisions of today. Ex: Placing your hand on a hot burner for the first time.
So how does Experiential Education fit in with all of this? Good question! Experiential Education engages all of these factors to get someone to truly learn new information. For example, in my first paragraph I used association to call on experiences you are likely familiar with, and combined it with a new experience I was facilitating. Then, after, I asked questions so that you could provide words to this new experience. I could then use repetition by having someone else read the paragraph to you, and then you do it for someone else, and then you re-read it, so that repetition is happening through different experiences! Urgency? Say whoever recited the visualization first would get $100.
The traditional side of things requires very little engagement with all three factors, and very little depth within the factor it is touching on. Let’s take the third question from above:
It is fall, what are the correct answers:
You are laying down in
This calls upon your experience of fall, so association. Great! But… this question implies that everyone has the same experience of fall. Yet, someone in Florida will have a different fall experience than those in Michigan or inner city New York. One of these options has to be right though… right? The experiential visualization is not perfect, but it does allow for questions, it enables others to teach others about their fall experience, and to discuss a new experience.
Overall, Experiential Education is making a new wave. More and more studies are suggesting that the brain learns best through facilitated experience and reflection, and that a lecture with note taking is not benefiting the learner in a significant way. Experiential Education is opening up new doors for creativity, teamwork, long term recollection, communication within an era of technology, and increasing overall levels of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. So why is this important to an outdoor company like Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries (SROM)?
Here at SROM we take experiential education seriously. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” If we do not experience him through the senses He has given us, if we do not taste and see Him, if we do not educate ourselves in more than just reading and religious regulations, how will we know and experience the refuge of God? We must have a personal relationship with the Lord that welcomes the experiences He wants to give us to learn and grow. So, at SROM, we strive to do just that on our courses.Throughout course, we provide facilitated experiential education with pointed debriefs to keep our courses open to God and His movement. Experiences, with God at the center, change lives.
Folks, this is only the surface of experiential education. There are so many resources- articles, books, videos, even classes to dive further into! I encourage you to continue to learn about this amazing teaching method and apply it in a Christ-centered way to your friends, families, and communities. Who knows, maybe next time the sun is on your face, you hear happy bees, or are laying in a soft, pillow-like grass, you’ll think of the power of experience and remember to share it with others.
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”