22 SES 13 A, Paper Session
Global challenges and times of uncertainty have established transversal (UNESCO, 2015) or transformative competencies (OECD, 2019) – such as reflective thinking, teamwork, perseverance and conflict resolution – as overarching learning objectives for formal education and life-long learning in Europe and beyond, as they are seen as key to a ‘successful life and a well-functioning society’ (OECD, 2005, 4).
In terms of suitable educational approaches to achieve these, ‘experiential learning’ and ‘experiential education’ have accrued a massive body of international and interdisciplinary research that evidences its effectiveness in promoting transversal competencies as well as academic learning (see for example contributions in Silberman, 2007; or Beard & Wilson, 2009). Experiential learning is already widely implemented in early years, primary education, and non-formal education in many European countries, and on the incline in secondary schools, e.g. with more project and community-based learning. The higher education sector however still largely focuses on knowledge acquisition rather than competencies.
In order to reap more of the positive effects of experiential learning, educators and course designers need specific guidelines to evaluate to what degree a learning setting can be considered ‘experiential’, and which controllable factors have what kind of impact on the progress of the learners.
The wider objective of this project is to raise the learning outcomes for students from higher education courses to include transversal competencies aside the subject-specific curriculum content.
More tangibly, the project’s intention was to create a tool for course designers and tutors to gauge to what degree their courses are ‘experiential’, and guidelines on how they can systematically apply factors of experiential learning to increase their students’ development of competence.
In order to achieve this, a Framework for Experiential Learning was constructed of factors frequently reported on in international literature and research in experiential education and related disciplines. This theoretical framework consists of six defining factors:
- Agency: Participants need to have some autonomy to pursue their individual interests, and negotiate what is being learned and how it is being learned (Deci & Ryan, 1987; Mercer, 2011).
- Authenticity: Learning should be placed in a real-life setting, allowing meaningful interactions with diverse communities rather than a theoretical preparation for some future professional practice (Howard, 2003; Dewey, 1938).
- Continuity: The content should build on previous knowledge and experiences, and be directed towards future lessons and learning (Beard & Wilson, 2006; Dewey, 1938).
- Emotional engagement: Emotions are a key carrier for learning, and emotional investment supports development of competence (Hildmann & Nicol, 2014; Moon, 2004).
- Reflection: Cognitive reflection makes physical and sub-conscious elements of experiences mentally available to deliberately inform future actions and choices (Boud et al., 1993; UNESCO, 2015). Reflection should occur all throughout the learning experience for best effects.
- Support: Educators provide guidance for students so that they can experiment relatively autonomously and make mistakes without dire consequences (Mackenzie, Son, & Hollenhorst, 2014; Stefanou et al., 2004).
- To what degree is the proposed theoretical Experiential Learning Framework affirmed, rejected, or altered when tested in practice on four higher education courses?
- To what degree do the learners perceive each factor of the framework as relevant to their professional learning and socio-emotional growth (associated with transversal competencies)?
Methodology (400 words) A quasi-experimental case study approach was taken to test the Experiential Learning Framework (ELF) by eliciting students’ views in four courses across the University of edinburgh (UK) that were rated as highly ‘experiential’ by project team members with international expertise on EL. The selected course elements were from BA, BSc, and MSc programmes in Geosciences (Geoscience Outreach), Community Education (professional placement), Law (Free Legal Advice Clinic), and Outdoor Environmental Education (professional placement). All of these courses are community-based, which is an established instructional strategy connecting the student cohorts with communities of their future professional clientele. This way, students are offered direct experiences with issues they study in the curriculum, while analysing and solving problems in the community (Smith & Sobel, 2010). Two methods for data collection were employed: 1. Online surveys were conducted anonymously with past and current students to elicit their key learning and challenges, and views on specific course aspects. Most questions had an open answer format, and were phrased without using the term ‘experiential’, to avoid leading towards tautological findings. The survey was piloted among current students (N= 23), and some questions slightly edited for the main survey. The phrasing was edited in tempus for past students, e.g.: Is/was the way of learning on [the course element] different from other elements of your studies? If so, how? 93 students responded with a roughly representative sample from each (current) cohort. A scoring system (-3 to +3) was devised to quantify the relevance students attributed to each framework factor in their responses. Scoring was conducted in pairs of project team members (inter-coder-reliability > 90%), and uncertain cases resolved through discussion. Scores underwent statistical analysis procedures, with significances computed at 95% confidence interval. Statistically significant findings were cross-checked with the word responses to ensure real-life validation of the figures. 2. Semi-structured, qualitative group interviews were conducted within the current cohorts during the same timeframe as the online survey (approx. 4 months). The interviews covered the same topics as the survey, in more depth, and scoping for factors that had hitherto been neglected by the framework. Interviews were audio-recorded and underwent thematic analysis. A total of 25 students participated in 10 interviews. Data were used to triangulate the findings from the online survey/s and add additional details. Overall, there was high agreement between the findings from the surveys and the group interviews.
All six factors demonstrated to be beneficial to students’ learning and growth. Some factors proved more relevant than others, and some exhibited connections that help to understand and implement EL as a pedagogical approach. For example: The factor with the strongest impact on student growth is Authenticity. Students reported that a ‘real life’ connection made the course more meaningful, and helped them see more value in it for their future life (Continuity). The factors Agency and Support showed an important inter-relation: Paired T-Tests for Means of factor scores (whole group, n=93) produced a weak yet significant correlation between these two factors (correlation +0.35 at sign .001, n=83). Qualitative analysis additionally revealed a perceived spectrum from ‘spoon feeding’ (too much Support, no Agency) to being overwhelmed and lost (No Support, too much Agency). The question for the right balance indicated high personal variance. For many students it was sufficient to be assured that support was available if needed, like a safety net. Recommendations for course organisers can be gleaned from this. Students who were guided to Reflection reported higher growth. Past students scored their course experiences overall more positively than current ones. Open text responses imply that they had more time to reflect on their experience, and saw more evidence of the future application value (Continuity). In summary, we conclude that the proposed Experiential Learning Framework holds across widely different courses and disciplines. The findings on how certain factors interact suggest strategies for optimising the learning and growth students can gain from a course. Immersing students into real-life community settings with their future work clientele is profitable to the communities as well as the individual growth of the students. The presented study was funded by the Principle's teaching Award Scheme (PTAS) of the University of Edinburgh.
Beard, C., & Wilson, J. P. (Eds.) (2009). Experiential learning. A best practice handbook for educators and trainers. London, Philadelphia: Kogan Page. Boud, D., Cohen, R. & Walker, D. (1993). Using experience for learning. Buckingham: Open University Press. Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (1987). The support of autonomy and the control of behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(6), 1024-1037. Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Collier Books. [deleted for blind review] Hildmann, J. & Nicol, R. (2014). A neurocognitive view on what makes educators 'effective' in nurturing social and personal skills. Educational Alternatives, 12, p. 328-340. Howard, J. (2003). Service-learning research: Foundational issues. In S. Billig & A. Waterman (Eds.), Studying service-learning: Innovations in education research methodology (pp. 1–10). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Mackenzie, H. S., Son, J. S., & Hollenhorst, S. (2014). Unifying psychology and experiential education: Toward an integrated understanding of why it works. Journal of Experiential Education, 1-14. DOI: 10.1177/1053825913518894. Mercer, S. (2011) Understanding learner agency as a complex dynamic system. System, 39, 427-436. Moon, J. (2004). A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice. New York: Routledge Falmer. OECD (2019a). OECD Future of Education and skills 2030: Thought Leader written statement. URL: http://www.oecd.org/education/2030-project/teaching-and-learning/learning/transformative-competencies/Thought_leader_written_statement_Rychen.pdf. OECD’s (2005). The definition and selection of key competencies. Executive Summary. URL: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/35070367.pdf. Silberman, M. (Ed.) (2007). The handbook of experiential learning. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons. Smith, G., & Sobel, D. (2010) Place- and community-based education in schools. New York: Routledge. Stefanou, C., Perencevich, K., DiCintio, M., & Turner, J. (2004). Supporting autonomy in the classroom: Ways teachers encourage student decision making and ownership. Educational Psychologist, 39(2), 97-110. UNESCO (2015). Transversal competencies in education policy and practice. Regional synthesis report, Phase I. URL: https://transversalcompetencies.weebly.com/uploads/2/8/4/2/28422343/transversal.pdf
- Search for keywords and phrases in "Text Search"
- Restrict in which part of the abstracts to search in "Where to search"
- Search for authors and in the respective field.
- For planning your conference attendance you may want to use the conference app, which will be issued some weeks before the conference
- If you are a session chair, best look up your chairing duties in the conference system (Conftool) or the app.