“Just Google it!” As a tried-and-true method for finding answers, Google has changed the world. But no matter the field, education is more than just finding answers. It’s about teaching skills; this includes, but is not limited to, problem-solving skills, communication skills, and people skills. And that’s in addition to giving students the tools for success in their chosen fields. Setting up students for success is no easy feat!

So, how does an instructor teach these important skills while also teaching students the facts of the field? Experiential learning poses one possible answer. We’ve defined experiential learning in previous posts, but what does using this method mean on a practical level? What sort of experiential learning activities can an instructor rely on? While not all of the below suggestions will work for every classroom or situation, this list provides a starting point for instructors looking for ideas.

1: Think-Pair-Share

In a think-pair-share activity, individual students will first think about an issue or question and then discuss it with one or two students before sharing their thoughts with the class. Think-pair-share engages all students and works in any class size. With an easy setup, it can be used to stir up student engagement at the drop of a hat.

2: Object Lesson

Object lessons are lessons that turn an abstract idea into a practical example. These lessons often require more setup on the instructor’s end but greatly benefit the student. Students are not only engaged, but they’ll create a long-term mental representation of the idea. This enables students to consider an idea beyond the abstract and helps them begin the process of applying the idea to real life.

3: Case Analysis

Case analysis requires students to analyze data and become the hypothetical decision-makers in a real-world scenario. Whereas the object lesson creates a practical example, the case analysis creates a realistic one. Case analysis also enables and encourages the practice of critical thinking and problem-solving skills—skills that are just as fundamental as classroom- and industry-specific skills. Case discussions can be led by the instructor or, for additional student benefit, by the students themselves.

4: Simulation

Simulations are what happen when you take case analyses a step further. Instead of merely discussing a scenario, students actively engage in the scenario. Simulations can be time-intensive for instructors, but they are often high-engagement activities for students. Examples of common simulation activities include in-class games, role-playing, and online simulations.

5: Applied Research Project

The applied research project involves looking at the subject matter in the real world and investigating how the subject matter is handled outside of the safety of the classroom. As a project, this is not a one-and-done activity for students. Instead, the applied research project spans from the identification of the question to the final presentation of the results. These projects can often last an entire semester.

+1: After-Action Review

After-action reviews provide immediate feedback to the student to help them analyze what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better. Despite their name, after-action reviews do not have to happen at the end of an activity, but at any point during an activity so that students can begin applying feedback immediately. After-action reviews, for obvious reasons, do not work as an independent activity. They are, however, an important supplement to many of the activities listed above, taking any experience to the next level.

Preparing students for the future is no easy task. However, in the hands of a capable instructor, experiential learning provides a potential path to future success.

Sources

“Experiential Learning.” Experiential Learning | Center for Teaching & Learning. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.bu.edu/ctl/guides/experiential-learning/. 

Fawcett, Stanley E, Francois Charles Giraud-Carrier, and Amydee M Fawcett. “Using Deliberate Practice to Transform Learning Culture: Helping Students Put Real Skills in Their OSCM Toolbox.” Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education 18, no. 2 (April 2020): 172–98.

Giraud-Carrier, Francois Charles, Stanley E Fawcett, and Amydee M Fawcett. “SPARRING: A deliberate practice pedagogy for business education.” Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education. (2021): 229–240. https://doi.org/10.1111/dsji.12248

Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. “Experiential learning. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants.” (2012). Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide

Western Governors University. “Experiential Learning Theory.” Western Governors University, June 8, 2020. https://www.wgu.edu/blog/experiential-learning-theory2006.html#close.