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Experiential Learning

Jeremy Tzi Dong NG, Nora Patricia HERNÁNDEZ LÓPEZ, Monaliza Maximo CHIAN


While we have the capacity to grow and learn in our lifetime, meaningful learning occurs when we are exposed to experiences (Miettinen, 2000; Morris, 2020). Drawing on prominent scholarship on human learning and development (Kolb & Kolb, 2005), experiential learning (EL) is a process that hinges on the idea that learners, as active participants, develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes through directly, consciously, and iteratively engaging in and critically reflecting on experience (Coker et al., 2017; Morris, 2020). Grounded in John Dewey’s conceptualisation of learning as a social and contextualised process of knowledge construction (Miettinen, 2000), EL requires learners’ authentic inquiry to real-world problems, exposing them to novel, challenging yet empowering and practical experiences (Morris, 2020). In relation to real-life practices in society, EL is also characterised by collaborative participation in social activities, whereby learners play a responsive role and sometimes take collective responsibility over the learning process (Williams & Sembiante, 2022).

Different from traditional pedagogies where knowledge is transmitted to learners, EL entails that knowledge is created through contextually rich experience (Lee, 2019). Among the various models of EL (e.g., Kolb & Kolb, 2005), critical reflection in the EL process often serves as a defining feature that facilitates EL (Harfitt & Chow, 2018; Morris, 2020). The learning outcomes of EL vary from one programme to another, though the stimulation of both intellectual and socioemotional experiences can help students develop both hard skills and soft skills (Coker et al., 2017).

EL was first developed for adult education and management training (Miettinen, 2000), but has since been used in many different educational settings. EL has been used in traditional classroom settings for disciplinary (Chan, 2012) as well as interdisciplinary studies (Chiu, 2019). Outdoor education also embraces EL through field trips and other informal learning institutions (e.g., museums) (Harfitt & Chow, 2018; Goff et al., 2018). In tertiary education, EL is often implemented through internships, service learning programmes, immersion and foreign exchange programmes, and undergraduate research experiences (Coker et al., 2017). These various contexts illustrate how EL can be adapted to meet different teaching and learning needs.

In particular, there is also a pool of studies in teacher education (Harfitt & Chow, 2018), focusing on teaching practicum as an EL component for pre-service teachers to gain field-based experience in pedagogical applications and classroom practices (Lee, 2019). Extant studies have also particularly called for more attention and efforts on how educators can be trained to improve their competence in facilitating EL (Morris, 2020).

Recent advancement in digital technologies and the pandemic-induced challenges have inspired and motivated technology-supported/enhanced delivery of students’ EL experience. For instance, immersive reality technologies (e.g., virtual reality, augmented reality) have been increasingly leveraged to offer learners the opportunities to participate in simulation-based experiential learning in a virtual and immersive way (Goff et al., 2018).

Below are some relevant and timely resources that raise issues, considerations, and challenges as we understand the concept of experiential learning.


Chan, C. K. Y. (2012). Exploring an experiential learning project through Kolb's learning theory using a qualitative research method. European Journal of Engineering Education, 37(4), 405-415.

Chiu, S. K. (2019). Innovative experiential learning experience: Pedagogical adopting Kolb’s learning cycle at higher education in Hong Kong. Cogent Education, 6(1), 1644720.

Coker, J. S., Heiser, E., Taylor, L., & Book, C. (2017). Impacts of experiential learning depth and breadth on student outcomes. Journal of Experiential Education, 40(1), 5-23.

Goff, E. E., Mulvey, K. L., Irvin, M. J., & Hartstone-Rose, A. (2018). Applications of augmented reality in informal science learning sites: A review. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 27, 433-447.

Harfitt, G. J., & Chow, J. M. L. (2018). Transforming traditional models of initial teacher education through a mandatory experiential learning programme. Teaching and Teacher Education, 73, 120-129.

Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4(2), 193-212.

Lee, J. F. K. (2019). Experiential teacher education -- Preparing preservice teachers to teach English grammar through an experiential learning project. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 44(1).

Miettinen, R. (2000). The concept of experiential learning and John Dewey's theory of reflective thought and action. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 19(1), 54-72.

Morris, T. H. (2020). Experiential learning -- A systematic review and revision of Kolb’s model. Interactive Learning Environments, 28(8), 1064-1077.

Williams, L., & Sembiante, S. F. (2022). Experiential learning in US undergraduate teacher preparation programs: A review of the literature. Teaching and Teacher Education, 112, 103630.

Schools as Sustainable Organisations

Highly-Cited Academic Articles

Coker, J. S., Heiser, E., Taylor, L., & Book, C. (2017). Impacts of experiential learning depth and breadth on student outcomes. Journal of Experiential Education, 40(1), 5-23.

James, J. K., & Williams, T. (2017). School-based experiential outdoor education: A neglected necessity. Journal of Experiential Education, 40(1), 58-71.

Morris, T. H. (2020). Experiential learning -- A systematic review and revision of Kolb’s model. Interactive Learning Environments, 28(8), 1064-1077.

Seaman, J., Brown, M., & Quay, J. (2017). The evolution of experiential learning theory: Tracing lines of research in the JEE. Journal of Experiential Education, 40(4), NP1-NP21.

Tomkins, L., & Ulus, E. (2016). ‘Oh, was that “experiential learning”?!’ Spaces, synergies and surprises with Kolb’s learning cycle. Management Learning, 47(2), 158-178.


Publications in/about the Region

Chiu, S. K. (2019). Innovative experiential learning experience: Pedagogical adopting Kolb’s learning cycle at higher education in Hong Kong. Cogent Education, 6(1), 1644720.

Jabarullah, N. H., & Hussain, H. I. (2019). The effectiveness of problem-based learning in technical and vocational education in Malaysia. Education + Training, 61(5), 552-567.

Kang, D. Y., & Martin, S. N. (2018). Improving learning opportunities for special education needs (SEN) students by engaging pre-service science teachers in an informal experiential learning course. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 38(3), 319-347.

Liao, F., Murphy, D., Wu, J. C., Chen, C. Y., Chang, C. C., & Tsai, P. F. (2022). How technology-enhanced experiential e-learning can facilitate the development of person-centred communication skills online for health-care students: A qualitative study. BMC Medical Education, 22, 60.

Singh, E. P., Doval, J., Kumar, S., & Khan, M. M. S. (2022). Investigating the impact of full-term experiential learning project on management graduates: An emerging economy perspective. Review of International Business and Strategy, 32(4), 677-694.

Tsunematsu, N. (2022). Agency, autonomy, and power of international students in interactions with local society in Japan through an experiential learning project. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education.


School Examples and Resources

Creative Secondary School. (n.d.). Experiential Learning.

Education Bureau. (2022). Examples of Secondary Education Curriculum Guide (SECG) Booklet 7 Experiential Learning: Life-wide Learning.

ISF Academy. (n.d.). Experiential Learning Program.


HKU Scholarship and Resources

Chan, C. K. Y., Wong, H. Y. H., & Luo, J. (2021). An exploratory study on assessing reflective writing from teachers’ perspectives. Higher Education Research & Development, 40(4), 706-720.

Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong. (2023). The Faculty of Education | Experiential Learning.

Faculty of Social Sciences, The University of Hong Kong. (2023). Experiential Learning.

Kee, T., & Zhang, H. (2022). Digital experiential learning for sustainable horticulture and landscape management education. Sustainability, 14(15), 9116.

The University of Hong Kong. (2023). Experiential Learning @ HKU.

Wang, J. S. H., Chui, C. H. K., Jordan, L., & Chan, K. S. K. (2022). An experiential learning-based integrated policy advocacy education model in Hong Kong: What works in a non-Western and partial democratic context? Journal of Social Work Education, 58(2), 346-364.


Internet Resources


Experience Based Learning Systems, LLC (EBLS).

Institute for Experiential Learning.

YouTube Videos

EBLS. (2019, August 4). 8 things to know about the experiential learning cycle.

Edutopia. (2019, August 3). A student-driven approach to experiential learning.

TEDx Talks. (2018, May 19). Make impact with experiential learning | Ravindra Stephen Goonetilleke | TEDxEdUHK.

Blog Posts

FutureLearn (2021, September 8). What is experiential learning and how does it work? FutureLearn Blog.

Kayes, A. B. & Kayes, D. C. (2021, June 6). Experiential learning: Current contributions and future trends in practice. OUP Blog.


Extended Readings

Chan, C. K. Y. (2022). Assessment for experiential learning. Routledge.

Coates, J. K., & Pimlott‐Wilson, H. (2019). Learning while playing: Children's Forest School experiences in the UK. British Educational Research Journal, 45(1), 21-40.

Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Pearson FT Press.

Moorhouse, B. L. (2018). Taking an active role in our pre-service teachers’ overseas teaching experiences: A report on an experiential learning project in China. Journal of Education for Teaching, 44(2), 241-242.

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