Outdoor Education

Experiential Learning
& Experiential Education
Philosophy, theory, practice & resources

James Neill
Last updated:
10 May 2006


Experiential Education Philosophy

Experiential Learning Theory

Experiential Learning Cycles

Experiential Education Practice

Experiential Education = Learning by Doing

Discussion Group

  • Experiential Learning
    (Google Groups)

    The purpose of this group is to discuss theories & practices of experiential learning & experiential education.

Experiential Learning Quotes

The things we have to learn before we do them, we learn by doing them.
- Aristotle

The knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world, and not in a closet.
- Lord Philip Dormer Stanhope Chesterfield

Experiential education is elusive, often paradoxical, a multifaceted jewel with ethical, aesthetic, spiritual, physical social and psychological dimensions, even cosmic dimensions.  Psychological mountain climbing may be the right phrase for what we mean by experiential education.
- John C. Huie

More Education Quotes...

What's New?

  • School's out: Open-air British schools in the 1930's
    (The Independent, 23 January, 2005)
    The idea of outdoor schools, primarily for health reasons, derived from the sanatoria that sprang up in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century.  In the sanatoria, fresh air and sunshine as much as medicine were used to treat tuberculosis (TB), with mixed success.  This idea was extended in Britain during the first half of the 20th century, with the focus on improving the health of children who were seen as sickly and susceptible to TB.  The schools were truly open-air (no walls) with purposeful, harsh (but supposedly healthy) environmental conditions, especially during winter, intentional.  By the 1940's there were 155 open-air schools and they aimed to improve both health and academics.  These open-air schools shared much with the philosophy with Baden-Powell's scouting movement and Outward Bound.
  • Excellent teachers: Exploring self-constructs, role and personal challenge
    (Roger Vallance, 2000, Paper presented to the Australian Association for Research in Education)
    Who are the excellent teachers, and what do they look like? This empirical report is based on self reported data about the characteristics of excellent teachers in the Australian Catholic schooling system.  Four common characteristics emerged: Excellent teachers were: 1) organized; 2) focused on whole person; 3) loved the students; and 4) were committed to the students.
  • On the importance of asking questions
    (Julius Sumner Miller, 1967, Preface to "Millergrams" - Book II)
    On the vital importance of asking questions, rather than assuming to know.  Eloquently champions the flame of enthusiasm that can be kindled when we ask questions, contemplate, discuss, experiment and meditate on questions.
  • Fifth grade students at crumbling Chicago elementary school challenge political indifference
    (Ralph Nader, 20 April, 2004, www.commondreams.org)
  • Nurturing scientific literacy among youth through experientially based curriculum materials
    (Robert Horton & Suzanne Hutchinson, 1997)
  • An intervention hierarchy for promoting young children's peer interactions in natural environments
    (Brown, Odom, & Conroy, Fall, 2001, Topics in Early Childhood Special Education)

Experiential Education Resources

Experiential Learning FAQs

Experiential Learning

Studying Experiential Learning

Several authors (e.g., Kraft, 1991; Richards, 1977) have pointed out that experiential learning dates back beyond recorded history and remains pervasive in current society, whether formalized by educational institutions or occurring informally in day-to-day life. In this sense, experiential learning is not an alternative approach, but the most traditional and fundamental method of human learning. Ironically, the current perception of experiential education as ‘different’ is probably less due to new developments in experiential learning than it is to the normalization of didactic teaching as the mainstream educational methodology.

For these reasons, those seeking a deeper understanding of experiential learning should consider the philosophies of not only contemporary figures such as Kurt Hahn (who was inspired by and utilized Plato’s “The Republic” in designing Outward Bound programs), Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle, and so on, but also include study of those who have previously described the process of experiential learning long before many current forms of experiential education began. Main figures in this sense are John Dewey and Paulo Freire, but also consider how the work of William James, Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner and Francis Boal apply to our current educational situations.

Since the 1950's there has been a growing focus in writings and research specifically on experiential learning. Major sources for such material related to experiential learning in the outdoors are journals, conferences, books (e.g., edited texts that focus on current thinking in experiential learning such as Boud, et al., 1993; Weil & McGill, 1989), and websites.