Experiential learning is, simply put, learning by doing or engagement, whereby a learner becomes engaged in a sense making process of a significant experience, an experience that serves as a cradle of learning (Beard and Wilson, 2010).
This type of learning integrates theory and practice because “theory lacks meaning outside of practice” (Eyler, 2009). While experiential learning can and often does take place in classroom, lab and studio situations, it is much more powerful and robust when students have multiple iterative and reflective opportunities to use their knowledge and practice their skills in authentic, real-world situations with real parameters, constraints and consequences for their decisions and behavior.
Experiential education prompts new learning when students are put in unfamiliar situations for which they are not prepared and yet must act to complete a task. In doing so, experiential learning supports development and provides practice in using life-long and self-directed learning skills that students will need to invoke throughout their lives in order to continuously meet new personal and professional challenges.
Experiential learning science is an interdisciplinary field consisting of psychologists, sociologists, cognitive scientists, economists, network scientists, and all others who bring together the knowledge, methodologies and approaches of their fields to deepen the understanding of the mechanisms behind experiential learning and its impact on student success in the workforce.