Experiential Educator Feature

Scott Garrigan

Professor Emeritus of Teaching, Learning, and Technology
Lehigh University

What does experiential learning mean to you?

By creatively applying what they learn, students turn concepts into lasting knowledge. By implementing that knowledge in situated, real-world experiences, they turn knowledge into usable skills and deeper understanding. Employers know this process fuels a workforce that grows to meet future challenges.

Why is experiential learning a priority for you?

Classroom-based education does not adequately connect students to real-world knowledge. As an educator, I expect students to creatively apply the knowledge from lecture content and case studies. Until you “do” it, you don’t truly know it, and this is where experiential learning comes into play. There is no substitute for experiential learning because you learn through doing it, rather than solely learning before you do it.

Can you give us an example of a successful experiential learning engagement that you've coordinated/delivered?

Most of the courses that have taught or currently teach have been created to address the current needs of society. For example, right now students are using “Big Data & Machine Learning” to explore the COV-19 through the massive flow of data,  the visualization of that data and an understanding of virus’s exponential growth. In the past, my students have designed medical instruction for the regional hospital St. Lukes. Another example is independent studies, during which students developed training materials for new employees of an East Coast industrial construction firm. Regardless of the format, each course goal is to customize the experience to consider current needs in the field and the students’ needs

Why do you use experiential learning?

The last two years of my undergrad education was experiential learning, and I learned that there is no substitute for learning to solve real-world problems to benefit real people. I recognize there are two components of education, one being introducing new skills (through lecture, readings, and videos) and the other being applying that knowledge. Introducing the information is just the surface and does not embody “full learning,” especially if that concept is new. Students need to “wrestle” with the content in order to be fully engaged. At the core, it is all about good teaching, which is simply acting to engage the audience. There is certainly no best method to engage students because every educator has his or her own strengths. Effective experiential learning is achieved when educators build off of their strengths to create meaningful classroom experiences. And, there is a thin line between learning through experiences versus experiential learning. By learning through experiences, students are challenged to the point of frustration and then encouraged to work through it; if not frustrated, students are not pushed the boundaries of their knowledge.

How do your students benefit from experiential learning?

First, they realize that real-world problems rarely fit classroom-based models. Second, they gain awareness of how they gain confidence that they are up to the task. Finally, they begin to develop a professional network to support their career path.

What's the most challenging part of being an #ExperientialEducator? (coordinating/delivering an experiential learning curriculum to students)

Developing a resource base of accessible partners presents a considerable obstacle to overcome. It also takes considerable skill and experience to believe in your students’ abilities to deeply engage and learn without you micromanaging their experience. Finally, institutional acceptance of experiential learning that never follows a defined curriculum is a significant challenge educator consistently face. It is crucial to understand that the curriculum is created by the experience.

What skills do your students use when engaged in experiential learning?

Primarily, they use and develop interpersonal and organizational skills. Students must also reframe their theoretical and case-study knowledge to meet the demands of real-world business.

What advice do you have for faculty and institutions considering experiential learning?

The desire to embed experiential learning in the classroom environment is the first step. Educators cannot be “forced” to believe  in creating meaningful experiences for students and their future. Given the educator has the desire, he or she must go beyond the traditional classroom procedure because every engagement is unique and not searchable in the instructor’s guide in the textbook. A combination of the instructor’s background and student insight is typically the best answer. The collection of the students is the biggest source of knowledge, so take advantage of that community through sharing, voting and collecting student feedback. Support your students and off-site partners as they figure out how to benefit each other. Again, the underlying idea is if you [as the educator] want to do it, you will. Once you do, it is important to consider forms of assessment for student performance. The result of experiential learning is not a test, grade, or even a necessarily a formal transcript – but rather it can be a compilation of excerpts of self and instructor evaluations, which actually show what the student did and learned. By self or peer-assessing, an educator can truly unleash the potential of students.

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Scott Garrigan

Professor Emeritus of Teaching, Learning, and Technology
Lehigh University
"By creatively applying what they learn, students turn concepts into lasting knowledge."
Dr. Scott Garrigan is Emeritus Professor of Teaching, Learning, and Technology at the Lehigh University College of Education. He has guided and benefitted from experiential learning and project-based learning from his undergraduate days to the online courses he teaches today. He taught his first online class from an Internet Cafe in Istanbul, Turkey, and he’s been a convert ever since. He’s designed and taught many online courses and experiences such as a global online master’s course in education leadership with students from six continents (sometimes online live at same time). Collaborative projects in his online courses have included writing Wikibook “textbooks” on emerging technologies, student-initiated small group web conferences, and construction of virtual experiential learning spaces in Second Life. A current interest is pushing the envelope for collaborative learning in virtual reality and augmented reality projects (VR, AR, and 3D modeling has been a topic in many of his courses).