Experiential Learning

Engaged learning is a key focus of University of Michigan's teaching efforts, given the power of active, immersive approaches for promoting student learning. Service-learning, fieldwork, and other forms of what is often called 'experiential learning' allow students to make discoveries about course content, connect realms of knowledge and experience, and think critically about their own actions. 
Given the practical and logistical challenges often involved in setting up such experiential learning opportunities, how can instructors maximize the student learning that results? Several questions can be useful to consider carefully while planning such a student experience: What kinds of preparation will help students reap the greatest learning rewards of such activities? How can an instructor best connect an immersive activity to the learning goals of the course? How can the teacher effectively prompt students to reflect on their experience to promote learning?

Professor Michelle Aebersold

At the U-M School of Nursing, Clinical Assistant Professor Michelle Aebersold has led the way with integrating a powerful form of experiential learning—care for simulated patients—into the undergraduate curriculum, paying careful attention to all of those questions. In this video, Aebersold explains how she structured the simulations to enable nursing students at the Clinical Learning Center to practice key skills and apply their knowledge in a realistic but controlled environment. In these exercises, a few students interact with a state-of-the-art, high-fidelity mannequin or live simulated patient while instructors behind a two-way mirror control the patient responses (breathing and heart rate, for example). Classmates observe the activities through live closed-circuit video. 
Discussing the key components that make these simulations powerful learning activities, Aebersold highlights three elements that research supports as good practice for any kind of experiential learning:

Situating Your Work

Teaching through community engagement is a powerful exercise for all involved. Thinking through the purpose of community collaboration, forms of engagement, and desired student learning outcomes helps faculty members clarify the many decisions they make in creating or revising a course with community connections. This page helps instructors become more aware and explicit about the framework of their course, as well as discover questions and resources that others have found useful.   


U-M students, like the faculty, have a broad range of purposes as they explore courses on community engagement. Some are seeking basic information, some want to engage critically with ideas like community, equity, and power, some are advocates for social justice, and others want to hone skills for activism. These different motivations overlap, and they can lead to one another over time. Being explicit about the different kinds of purposes a course can serve helps students locate their own development and can generate valuable discussion. Talking about the different kinds of skills that instructors and community members cultivate also helps students locate themselves on a trajectory toward future work.  Read more »


Experiential learning is an engaged learning process whereby students “learn by doing” and by reflecting on the experience. Experiential learning activities can include, but are not limited to, hands-on laboratory experiments, practicums, field exercises, and studio performances. The article in this section describes how experiential learning can be incorporated into college courses.

Experiential Learning & Experiential Education: Philosophy, theory, practice & resources (James Neill, University of Canberra, Wilderdom.com)
Comprehensive site exploring definitions and learning theories related to experiential education. Also includes an index of group activities, games, exercises, and initiatives.

David. A. Kolb on experiential learning (Smith, 2001, Informal Education)
David A. Kolb's model of experiential learning can be found in many discussions of the theory and practice of adult education, informal education and lifelong learning. This site sets out the model, and examines its possibilities and problems.

Professional Associations: Read more »