Why Experiential Learning is Better

It’s often said that most of your learning takes place outside of the classroom. Lessons taught in those classrooms have shed light that people learn in very different ways.

Some learn better when listening to music or through conversation. Others learn better through repetition and memorization. These are two methods that you see most often in higher education. You’ll see people zoned out in the library, headphones in and laser-focused on the textbook in front of them. Every now and then, you’ll go to a group study session and someone that inevitably gets called the overachiever whips out a stack of flashcards as thick as a sandwich from Panther Dining Hall. You don’t get too much variety outside these two basic methods, and quite honestly, that’s a shame.

Growing up, I was in Boy Scouts and we learned most of our lessons by physically immersing ourselves in it. For instance, when we were learning how to build shelters in wilderness survival, we were given nothing but our pocketknives and a piece of plastic. We had to figure out the best means of utilizing our surroundings and resources to construct a shelter that we would then sleep in the entire weekend. Let me tell you, after the first night of rain, I quickly learned what does and does not work for water protection.

To me, this was the most effective means of learning a lesson. While yes, I could have read in a book what should be done to properly construct a shelter, there’s no way that one book could have adjusted for the conditions I was in and the unique obstacles I faced.

The same can be said for textbook learning versus experiential learning. Textbook definitions, theories and concepts are all wonderful tools, but they’re just that: tools. Real world action is where you learn to utilize those tools to accomplish tangible goals. By learning on the job, however, you open up the opportunity to learn concepts on your own that, at least to you, are entirely new discoveries. That creativity and spot learning are traits of entrepreneurship, one of the values the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business is trying to incorporate into its degree programs.

In order to delve into experiential learning though, you need to be okay with putting yourself in sometimes awkward situations.  You can’t be overly afraid of making a fool out of yourself or possibly even failing spectacularly. These things happen, but the lessons from them stick much more. Some universities have student-run businesses (funded by the school) that teach students how to effectively run a small business without the risk of losing their own capital. Throughout their time, students all work together to develop the business model from production and sales to customer support.  These businesses can range from bicycle repair shops to coffee shops, and even bars and nightclubs. This is real world applicability to the lessons learned in classrooms.  There currently exists an opportunity for a small café to be installed in the new Babcock Oaks home of the College of Business. If this will come to be, that has yet to be determined, but there currently are a number of classes that are looking into the feasibility of it. I personally hope the College of Business spearheads this and sees it as an opportunity to add a different method of instruction to its already stellar programs. Sometimes in scenarios like this, it’s not all about the economic profit, but also the educational value in allowing students the experience.

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